New York State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia–only two weeks on the job–took a hard line with Buffalo public schools. She warned that the district had a year to “fix” their schools or she would take them over and put them in receivership.

“If there was any question how serious the state is about taking control of Buffalo’s schools, new Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia made clear her intentions to Buffalo School Board members late last week.

“Rest assured,” she told them in a meeting in Buffalo,“that if the schools do not show demonstrable improvement, someone will come in under my authority and fix those schools.”

“The state Education Department already is taking steps to do just that.

“A year from now, five Buffalo schools are headed for a takeover by someone outside the district.

“Twenty more city schools are on the same path for the following year.

“At that point, the state has within its power to place any city school it deems failing in the hands of someone outside the district. And as it stands now, just 15 of the district’s 56 schools are in good standing with the state.

“That means, unless significant improvement is made in student performance, someone other than the Buffalo superintendent or School Board will be in charge of nearly half of Buffalo’s public schools in just a couple of years.

“When Elia demanded that the School Board fix the city schools or she would act, she was referring to a new state law that allows for the appointment of receivers who would have unprecedented powers to make sweeping changes at failing schools.”

New York State has a bad record taking over schools. In 2002, the state took over the segregated Roosevelt School District. It failed to improve the schools or reduce their deficit.