The Common Council Tuesday went on record as supporting a plan to restart two of the city’s lowest performing schools as charters.
In a 7-2 vote, the Council approved a non-binding measure that urges the Buffalo Public School District to “cooperate and collaborate” with efforts to restart Waterfront Elementary School and East High School as charter schools.
The resolution, which also urges the state Education Department and Board of Regents to approve the charter efforts in time for the next school year, was sponsored by Council Members Joseph Golombek and Bonnie E. Russell.
Golombek said he hoped the resolution would start a dialogue and said all elected officials share some of the blame for the problems in the district.
“We’ve kept our mouths shut and we’ve lost ... a generation of students,” he said.
Supporters of the effort said though there was no legal effect of the Council’s support, it is important nonetheless.
“The Council has recognized the depth of the problem,” said Steven H. Polowitz, a lawyer with Chameleon Community Schools Project, a nonprofit group that submitted applications to the state Education Department to close the schools and reopen them as charters. “They have a real stake in this.”
Voting against the measure were Council Members Michael J. LoCurto and David A. Rivera, who said they had hoped the matter would be sent to committee so all sides of the issue could be discussed.
Chameleon is using a charter restart model stipulated in federal guidelines for turning around failing schools and has submitted an application to the state Education Department.
A letter from that department was sent to the school district on Oct. 11 saying the board must hold a public hearing on the application by Nov. 11, said Amy Friedman, who submitted the charter applications.
The hearing is a requirement under the law, Polowitz said.
The applicants expect to know by December whether the charters were approved.
The charter plan includes a longer school day, leasing the buildings from the district and keeping the buildings open longer for community use.
Polowitz said all current students – there are 1,500 total in the two schools – would have admission preference if the charters are authorized.
Polowitz and other supporters of the turnaround plan attempted to make a presentation to Buffalo Board of Education members in September, but the board’s lawyer urged members not to allow it.