The Buffalo Board of Ed’s Majority’s first foray into launching the plan to disassemble the District’s schools in favor of charter schools has resulted in an interesting turn of events. The plan was hatched on October 8th, when Board majority members, over the objections of the minority members, voted to ask New York State Commissioner John King to create an unprecedented third round for charter school applications just for the Buffalo School District. The urgency of this decision, an excuse for not seeking public comment on this action, was underscored when the State posted the call for new applicants on its website on the morning of October 10th. The minority Board members wrote two letters, the first dated October 10th, to Commissioner King requesting clarification of his out–of- time designation of four schools. He was also asked for more time to allow for community input into this new charter school process. The Commissioner’s responses, through his surrogates, were curt and referred us to the Board’s own attorney for answers to our questions.
Moving ahead with the process, the State even offered potential successful charter school candidates up to $750,000 in start-up funds as an incentive. The deadline for submission of completed applications was November 16th, by 6:00pm. While the State voiced expectations that they would receive loads of applications from “high quality” applicants, they only received two. Both applications are for elementary charter schools. None were received for high schools. So, what’s next? According to the State website, public comment can be submitted to the State regarding these applicants at email@example.com. The Buffalo Public Schools are also required to conduct Public Hearings between the dates of November 17 – December 15. The final decision to approve or disapprove the applicants will rest with the NYS Board of Regents. That decision will be made during the Regents’ December 15-16 meeting in Albany. The successful charters would start in September 2015.
At the same time, the Buffalo School District is moving forward on its own internal process to determine the fate of the four out-of-time schools, Bennett, East, Lafayette High Schools and School #39, MLK, Jr. Multi-cultural Institute. The District’s options, as ordered by the State, include creating new, innovative District led programs for each school, partnering with an Educational Partner Organization, Converting the existing schools to charter schools (this is a different process than the State orchestrated one) or seeking support from the State University of New York as a lead partner with any of the schools. The final option, one which is not an option for the minority Board members is closure of the schools in question. The School District’s call for proposals has been issued and the deadline date for receipt of these will be December 12th. Public hearings will be held once the proposals are vetted. The Board has until January 28th to make a final decision, which must be communicated to the State Education Department. The State will still have final approval.
The future of the four District Schools and the hundreds of students served by these schools is at stake. All of us, not just parents, Board members, teachers or school staff are called on to be knowledgeable about the circumstances under which decisions are being made or will be made about the schools in the District. Today, we speak of four schools but tomorrow it could be another four, eight or more. I urge the community to stay vigilant and voice your opinions. Education matters!