Will BPS find funds for program that helps students graduate?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Buffalo School District has to find money in its $800 million budget to fund a successful mentoring program with a proven track record or the district will lose a matching grant.

Superintendent Dr. Pamela Brown says there may be interest by board members to match some or all of the Wegman Charitable Foundation money now on the table. However, she says a nearly $50 million deficit faced by the district could halt those efforts.

“We will certainly look at that and do what we can. It’s a great program. There’s no doubt about that,” Dr. Brown said.

News 4 investigates reported this week that Danny Wegman made a million dollar commitment a year ago to fund the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection over three years. It’s a mentoring and job program designed to keep students in school and get them to graduation day.

The Wegman grant, plus the district match, would be enough to expand the program beyond South Park and Bennett High Schools.

Lamont Williams, who works for the program, said, “That $2 million essentially would give us the potential to serve about 570 students in the district year-round.”

While Dr. Brown touts the schools recent progress and improvement, state data from 2012 shows a district in which less than half of all students graduate – in fact seven of the district’s schools fell below 50-percent.

At South Park High School, where the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection program is in danger of going away without new funding, there are many success stories. Twenty of 21 students in the program graduated last year.

Principal Theresa Schuta says it works.

“We have to give these kids an opportunity to have a diploma. It’s crucial,” she said.

School Board President Dr. Barbara Seals Nevergold added, “We are making every attempt to find the funding to match that money so that we don’t lose out.”

If the school district can’t find a way to fund the program, will the City of Buffalo make money available? Mayor Byron Brown, who’s studying the possibility of taking control of city schools, tells News 4 Investigates that the city has already made a financial commitment to the “Say Yes to Education” program.

“I don’t think the city is in a position to make the same kind of commitment to Hillside,” Mayor Brown said. “If we had all the money that our hearts desire would we fund Hillside and more of these things? Absolutely. But we just don’t have the resources as a community to do it all.”

Board member Carl Paladino says the district ought to find the money somewhere.

“I think we throw and waste such money on nonsense in that district, and to allow a matching grant opportunity like that to go by the wayside is sinful,” he said.

Board member Mary Ruth Kapsiak says she doesn’t want to see the district lose the program.

“I’m going to make sure that I check to see where we can get the funds to match what Wegmans has put up because this is what we need to do right now. This is critical,” she said.

Board member James Sampson added, “If we walk away from a million dollars worth of private money because we have a budget deficit, when we ought to be focusing on classroom instruction and how to get kids out of high school prepared, I think that would be absolutely foolish on our part.”

Though the school board is divided on many issues, members appear to be united when it comes to preserving and expanding the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection program.

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