Buffalo's School System

Certification Not Habitation

Here's the latest news about the decline of educational quality in Buffalo's public schools. Currently, administrators are hiring uncertified teachers in lieu of licensed instructors. The Buffalo School District Board of Education's reason for employing unaccredited teachers is a matter of a few miles. The uncertified teachers live in the city of Buffalo while the certified teachers are residents of nearby suburbs, making them ineligible for employment under the board's current teacher residency policy. New York state's Department of Education has demanded the immediate cessation of this practice.

The policy demands that teachers who work in Buffalo public schools must establish residency in the city within six months of their hiring date. Last month, the board threatened to cut 27 tenured teachers unless they move to Buffalo.

Conceived in 1995, the residency policy was established in the belief that forcing teachers to live within city limits is a sound economic practice, since their tax dollars are returned to the city. Furthermore, the board held that teachers who live in the city are in a better position to connect with the students, thus creating a friendlier learning environment.

Of course, this reasoning doesn't consider that uncertified, inexperienced teachers, for example one still working on their elementary education degree at Buffalo State College, are not as qualified to improve the learning environment as certified teachers with years of knowledge and experience.

The basic job of a school board, no matter its location, is to educate its students to the best of its ability. It is not their job to engage in politicized, economy-boosting actions; leave that job to the municipal government. Keeping tax dollars in the city by chaining down its teachers is not the concern of Buffalo's school board.

What the policy does is create new problems the city and the school district can't afford. Albany, already strapped for cash, is not giving an extra penny to Buffalo, but that doesn't mean they're easing their stringent Regents standards. In fact, the residency policy serves only to hamper the educational experience for the city's children, many of whom are already at a disadvantage. A few thousand dollars a year in added tax revenue surely won't boost their test scores.

The lack of funds in the school board's budget may result in impending layoffs. In this troubling scenario, the board should try to retain its existing certified faculty rather than hire unqualified teachers. They owe at least this much to the Buffalo parents and children. In fact, Board of Education President Paul Buchanan wants to overturn the residency requirement. A future compromise indicates that a new policy might simply give preference in hiring city residents over teachers who live outside of Buffalo. This is still unacceptable. The residency requirement is detrimental on the students of Buffalo public schools demands its total repeal.

This policy is an insult to dedicated teachers who commute to city schools. Buffalo is in no position to suddenly command their teachers where to live. Some occupations in the city, such as the Buffalo Police Department, have compelling reasons to enforce a residency requirement. The school board does not.