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A group wanting to turn East High School and Waterfront Elementary into charter schools was told Wednesday they could not present their plans to the Buffalo Board of Education.

Chameleon Community Schools Project, a nonprofit group, last week submitted applications to the state Education Department proposing to close the two schools and reopen them as charters. Both have been labeled by the state as persistently lowest-achieving schools.

It is the first time in New York that an outside group has submitted such plans without support of the local school board.

Chameleon representatives said that in July, Ralph R. Hernandez, board vice president for executive affairs, invited them to this week's meeting to present their plans.

When they were called to present at the meeting, though, Hernandez turned the floor over to Christopher M. Putrino, the district's general counsel.

"I don't think a presentation on a charter school should be made at this point in time," Putrino said. "We're talking about a school that is presently operated by the district, where the district has taken no action in regard to the school at all.

"I think hearing a presentation at this point, before the district has acted one way or another, is prejudicial against any other groups that may want to make a presentation."

Jason M. McCarthy, who represents the North District, was the only board member to say he thought Chameleon should be allowed to make a presentation.

"For the last couple months, this group has been trying to make their presentation on these schools," he said. "I don't understand why we can't listen to their proposal."



John B. Licata, an at-large board member, said the issue was fairness - that it would not be fair to other groups that also might be interested in running those schools.

Some board members said they were upset because Chameleon already had submitted the applications to the state.

"It appears that there were decisions made prior to coming to this board that this would be put in place before coming to this board, and that is very disrespectful to this board," said Sharon Belton-Cottman, who represents the Ferry District.

Steven H. Polowitz, an attorney representing Chameleon, said his group had already submitted the applications to the state.

"With all due respect, this is for your information only," he told the board. "We're not asking you to approve anything."

Superintendent Pamela C. Brown noted that the state has already approved a plan for Buffalo to hire Johns Hopkins University to run East High, beginning in this school year. The district has negotiated a contract with Johns Hopkins, she said, and the state is expecting implementation of that plan.

After the meeting, Chameleon representatives said they were disappointed but not surprised that they were not allowed to make a presentation to the board.

They expect to hear in October whether the state has approved their application. If it does, one of two things would have to happen for the schools to actually close and then reopen as charters: the School Board would have to vote to close and then restart the schools, or the state Education Department would have to revoke the registration of the schools - something it has never done in any district.



Chameleon representatives acknowledged it appears unlikely their plans will come to fruition, but said they would continue trying.



"We have 26,000 kids in failing schools in this district," said Valerie Nolan, the group's executive director. "These kids deserve something better. And their parents deserve options."





email: mpasciak@buffnews.com