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The skirmish between the charter supporters and the school board

Several months ago, a group of people -- many of them founders of Tapestry Charter School -- got together to craft plans to turn East High School and Waterfront Elementary into charter schools.

It's not unusual for a group to put together plans to start a charter school in Buffalo. There are usually at least a couple such efforts in any given year.

What makes this situation unusual is that it involves plans to turn existing schools in the district into charter schools, as opposed to starting charter schools from scratch.

On top of that, what makes it even more unusual is that the group proceeded largely on its own, without involving district administrators or the school board in its plans. (The only way the plans could proceed would be either with the support of the school board or with drastic action by State Ed to revoke the registrations of the schools, which would clear the way for restarting as charter schools. It's tough to say which seems more unlikely at this point.)

A few months ago, before the charter school group was about to file its initial letter of intent with the State Education Department, leaders of the group met with then-School Board President Lou Petrucci.

Accounts from the two sides differ in terms of how supportive Petrucci said he was of the plan. The bottom line, though, was that the way the situation evolved left many board members irritated that they had been left out of the process. (Then-Interim Superintendent Amber Dixon told me at the time that while she was generally aware of some interest in turning the schools into charters, she had never been directly approached about the plans.)

Various people in the group involved in the charter effort have told me that after years of dismal results for the students in those two schools, they believe it's time to try something radically different, whether or not the school board supports it.

Well, in the end, the group decided to delay submitted its charter application until the fall.The group submitted applications last week with State Ed to technically close the two schools, then restart them as charter schools, giving preference in admissions to students who are enrolled in those schools now.

Amy Friedman, one of the leaders of the group, asked Ralph Hernandez if the group could present their plans to the board at this week's executive affairs committee meeting (Hernandez is the chair of that committee). He said yes.

That has not sat well with several board members.

Here's an email that Friedman sent out:

Dear Founding Group, Trustees, Community Members, Community Partners, Members of the Buffalo Board of Education and Buffalo School District:

On Wednesday, September 12, 2012, Chameleon Community Schools Project, Inc., in partnership with community citizens, and following a process outlined by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), submitted charter applications as turnaround plans to NYSED for Priority schools East High
School and Waterfront School to restart both schools as charter schools commencing with the 2013-14 school year.

On July 14, at a public community meeting, Mr Ralph Hernandez, Chair of the Executive Affairs Committee of the Board, invited Chameleon Community Schools Project, Inc. and the charter founding group to present at the next committee meeting.  Mr. Hernandez confirmed on September 5 that Chameleon and the founding group are on the agenda for the Executive Affairs Committee meeting this Wednesday, September 19, 2012, at 5 PM in the Board Room, 801 City Hall.

We have accepted this invitation and look forward to presenting to the Board of Education.

This is a public meeting.  Please join us.

Sincerely,

Amy Friedman and Emilio Fuentes
Co-lead applicants

Petrucci responded with this:

To All-

I strongly urge the Buffalo Board of Education to NOT allow Chameleon to present at the Executive Affairs meeting on September 19th as it is in my opinion a violation of the well prescribed method by which we select partners for our schools and as such, I submit that we are exposing the district to liability on a variety of fronts from the litigious to the potential loss of funds for improper practice.

I am not anti-charter school and believe that under the present methodology used to select models for our low performing schools, a charter may be our only option. That being said, we are allowing a group to present to the board and we have not presented that opportunity to all the other parties that were previously interested, much less those that may have an interest now. That is why we use an RFP/RFQ so that individuals know that we are seeking partners. We have not issued either to my knowledge.

I have had conversations with SED. SED will only approve a charter school or EPO that the board has approved first. BY going directly to SED, Chameleon is not complying with the established protocol. The prescribed method is to gain local approval first. They applied and were rejected. Unfortunately points were not awarded for persistency.

Furthermore as Chameleon was not approved previously by the method the Buffalo Board of Education established by permitting them to present directly to the board, we undermine our own actions.

I cannot support this as currently presented to the board and urge in the strongest terms possible that my fellow board members do the same.

Sincerely,

Lou Petrucci

And Barbara Seals Nevergold wrote:

Lou, thanks for providing this background and perspective to this issue.  I agree with you that we need to step back and gather all the information regarding the appropriate procedures for moving this request through the proper channels.  Barbara Nevergold

We will find out on Wednesday whether the board decides to allow the charter group to present its plans.

- Mary Pasciak

facebook.com/mary.pasciak     twitter.com/MaryPasciak    [email protected] 

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About School Zone

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee

Denise Jewell Gee joined The Buffalo News in 2007 and currently covers education and suburban schools. She also writes a column for the City & Region section and previously covered government in Erie County and Niagara Falls. Gee graduated from Boston University with degrees in journalism and political science.

@denisejewellgee | [email protected]


Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes

Tiffany Lankes joined The Buffalo News in 2013 and primarily covers the Buffalo Public Schools. She has written about education since 2003 at newspapers in Florida and New York. In 2008, she was a nominated finalist for The Pulitzer Prize. Lankes is an Amherst native and graduate of Sacred Heart Academy and Syracuse University. She started her journalism career writing for the News’ NeXt section.

@TiffanyLankes | [email protected]


Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan

Sandra Tan has been a cityside reporter for The Buffalo News since 2000 and currently covers the Buffalo Public Schools beat. She previously covered the Williamsville school district and was a full-time education reporter for five years prior to joining The News. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

@BNschoolzone | [email protected]


Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams

Deidre Williams began working for The Buffalo News in 1999 and currently covers Buffalo Public Schools. She formerly was a suburban reporter on the Northtowns beat and has been a cityside reporter covering communities since 2004. Williams has a mass communications degree from Towson University.

@DeidreWilliamsB | [email protected]

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