Rose Ciotta: Buffalo district leaves Wegman grant unspent

Wegmans foundation money left on the table

The biggest challenge for urban school districts is increasing the number of students who stay in school and graduate.
Three years ago, a new program came to South Park High School to help with that mission. Funding came from the district and Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection.
In April, Danny Wegman, CEO of Wegmans Food Markets Inc. changed the equation by offering to give the program $1 million but only if the district matched the funds. The vision was to expand the program to other Buffalo high schools.

Unlike other programs in the district aiming to improve graduation rates, Hillside offers students the prospect of a part-time job.

Students can get and keep the job if they earn at least a C average in their core subjects, go through a 25-hour job readiness program and keep a good attitude about participating in the program.

As Alex Montalvo from South Park High found out, if grades slip, the student is not allowed to work.  For poor families who may depend on the student’s income, the program offers everyone an incentive to stay in school.

At South Park 20 of the 21 students in the Hillside program graduated. Of the 210 students in the program at South Park and Bennett High School 35 are working in part-time jobs. The jobs partners have expanded to include Tops and Delta Sonic.

But, there’s one program expanding the program to other Buffalo high schools.

Almost a year has run out on Wegman’s three-year challenge and the district has only used $105,000.
Wegman is waiting for the district to spend his money.
He told News 4 Investigates in a statement that his offer for the $1 million “still stands.”

His full statement says: “The Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection has a proven track record of changing the course of lives and breaking the cycle of poverty.  Our offer still stands;  the Wegman Family Charitable Foundation will match any dollars Buffalo Public Schools bring forward to support Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection this year and over the next two school years, up to a total of $1,000,000.

We have matched $105,000 to date, and it is my hope that Buffalo Public Schools will take advantage of what remains.”

News 4 Investigates pursued the issue with Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown and school board members – talking to
members of both voting blocks on the school board.

If the district’s number one priority is to get students to graduation day, can it afford not to take up Wegman’s
Watch News 4 at 5:30 for an update report.
If you missed our first report, you can watch it here.

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This is an update  on our popular Dicey Dining report.

In November, News 4 Investigates obtained and put online all Erie County restaurant inspections. The county followed by creating its own website for restaurant inspections.

As inspectors file their reports they are added to the county’s web site.   WIVB has gotten two updates to the database which means that the data now available on the Dicey Dining website is up to date through the end of January.

What getting the data also allows us to do is to analyze the data. Looking at 2014 inspections, we were able to identify the active restaurants with 12 or more violations.

Luke Moretti’s reports at 6 and 11 details our findings.

You can also catch up with our reports on WIVB.Com

The Dicey Dining web page also includes inspection information for schools in Erie County and restaurants and schools in the other Western New York counties.


City sells home for garbage fees

Gonzales family is not alone

That’s what experts say.  Other city residents have had their homes sold in foreclosure for garbage fees.

A 2011 study by the Partnership for the Public Good found that of 5,680 properties in the city’s January foreclosure filing, 2,967 or 52 percent “did not owe property taxes but only garbage fees.”

In a policy brief written by Jonathan Baird, that 2011 foreclosure list includes 982 properties that owed only garbage fees of less than $300 and 41 properties owning only sewer taxes of less than $50.  Properties that end up sold in rem are assessed a foreclosure fee of $445.

The study attributed the result to changes in how the city funds its garbage service. The city has a separate fund that pays for garbage costs.

If your home has landed on the In Rem list for garbage fees, we’d like to hear from you. Please email us at

As Al Vaughters told you at 6 (report will also air tonight at 10) a family in Riverside faces eviction after their home was sold in a foreclosure auction in October to a New Jersey investor.

The investor, Mohammed Hussain told News 4 Investigates that he did not know the home was occupied when he bought it at auction for $31,000. The home was sold because they owed $441 in garbage fees.

Dawn Gonzales bought the home on Esser Avenue in 1990 to give her parents a home. She insists that she received no notices of last October’s foreclosure. She also said she did not know that she owed the garbage fees.  Her mortgages calls for the lender to pay all taxes but records show several years in which county property taxes were not paid.

The family is now going to court to ask a judge to overturn the sale. They are suing the city, their mortgage serving company and Hussain, the new owner.

As of today, the deed has been transferred to the new owne.

We will keep you posted on the outcome.

Waiting for Social Security disability decisions

Al Vaughters’s 6 p.m. report reveals why some applicants for  Social Security disability are waiting years for decisions. It turns out that the Buffalo office lags the nation in disposing of cases. Some judges lag their colleagues and the national average in the number of disposed cases.

Here’s the report

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The breakdown of NFTA metro escalators

Do you use NFTA metro?  If you do, you have probably been frustrated by the seemingly continual break down of the University station escalators.

It’s a continuing story and Luke Moretti  during the 6 p.m. newscast disclosed what’s behind the escalator breakdowns. This has been a repeat problem for commuters and Moretti filed a request for records under the state Freedom of Information Law to dig out what’s behind it all.

Here’s the report.

More from News 4 Investigates

Digging into breakdowns of NFTA metro escalators is just one of the subjects of interest to our News 4 Investigates team.

When I first joined the News 4 team last August, I did an interview with my colleague Al Vaughters during a visit to the Erie County Fair.  I remember telling Al our game plan for the News 4 Investigates team.

We would do stories of interest to the public on subjects we know viewers would care about.

Our first major investigation which aired in November focused on an issue everyone can relate to: eating out.

More on “Dicey Dining”

We looked at restaurant inspections and produced “Dicey Dining,” which highlighted which restaurants had the highest number of critical and non-critical violations.  We added the inspections data to where viewers can check what county health inspectors found when they visited area restaurants.

Our reports led Erie County to put all of its restaurant inspections online as soon as they are available.

That’s a change that benefits everyone.

To continue with our pledge to dig up information that the public can’t easily get to, I’ve just obtained all of the inspections info and we will soon do a new report on which restaurants have the highest number of violations.

Being able to bring you reports like this is why we are here.

We want to report on issues you care about.

Along those lines, watch for others coming your way.


Taxpayers pick up the tab for abandoned homes in Holley

Jordan Williams took us to the Orleans County Village of Holley on Tuesday for the revealing story of how the federal EPA came to own eight homes that have sat empty for the past 12 years.  It all started with a chemical release from Diaz Chemical.  Since then, the EPA has spent millions to move residents and clean the mess left behind by the now bankrupt company.

And, you may be surprised to know.  Those houses will soon be put on the open market.

Here’s the story.

Dangerous cargo riding the rails

On Monday,  News 4 Investigates aired Luke Moretti’s three-part report on the dangerous cargo that rumbles through your community on railroad lines.

What’s new is that an increasing amount of highly flammable crude oil is routinely being sent on the rails from North Dakota to eastern refineries.  As Senator Charles Schumer put it, 40 percent of all of that crude travels through Buffalo.

The tank cars are the issue.  They are old and susceptible to puncturing. And, once they do, explosions can happen like the one in Quebec recently that killed nearly 50 people.

Here’s the full story along with links that can answer any questions you have. Moretti followed up on Tuesday with a report on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order to state agencies to review the rail travel of crude across the state.  Cuomo wants to make sure that first responders and affected communities are ready to respond.

This space will help me keep you posted on our investigative reports and if you have questions, I’d be glad to answer them.

Send your tips and questions

Send questions to me at

And, be sure to send along your tips for stories or topics you’d like to see investigated:


Phone: (716) 879-4TIP or (716) 879-4847 provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review. Note: Comments containing links are not allowed.

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