The Buffalo Board of Education is vowing to protest attempts by a nonprofit group to convert East High and Waterfront Elementary schools into charter schools. The board Wednesday voted to register its complaints in a letter to State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.
“I think we’re going to have to, as a board, band together on this issue,” said Ferry District member Sharon Belton-Cottman. “I’m going on record to say that I am working with the alumni and parents at East High School – even though it is not in my district – to make sure that we maintain that school. And I’m also working with a West Side group that interested in working to save Waterfront [Elementary School], as well.”
Her sentiments were echoed by board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak, in whose Central District both schools are located. Kapsiak, who was not at Wednesday night’s meeting, participated by telephone.
Chameleon Community Schools Project, a local group affiliated with attorney Steven Polowitz, has submitted an application to the state Education Department to close both schools, which are considered among the lowest achieving in the state, and reopen them as charters.
However, those plans drew heated opposition from some parents, community members and teachers during a public hearing that was hosted by the School Board on Nov. 7.
Mike Quinney, an East High School alumnus who spoke at the Nov. 7 public hearing, again addressed the School Board on Wednesday. Quinney, whose son is a freshman at East, said the school is beginning to make strides toward academic improvement.
“When I look at East High School, with Johns Hopkins coming in there now, with [the University at Buffalo] having [its] interdisciplinary program there, I think we’re moving in the right direction. I am in full support of our new superintendent. I say give her an opportunity ... to resolve this problem before we turn it over to [Chameleon],” Quinney said.
At-large member Florence Johnson agreed. “We have a new superintendent ... We have the Say Yes program that will provide wrap-around services. I propose that in our letter [to King] we say that. Tell [the state] to give this district an opportunity to put into effect its action plan by the superintendent,” said Johnson. Her sentiments were echoed by Kapsiak.
Other School Board members accused Chameleon of attempting an end run around the School Board by going directly to the state.
“What Chameleon is doing is unprecedented ... because for the first time in New York State, they’re not identifying the population of students. They’re identifying a particular school. That’s never been done across the state,” said Park District member Louis Petrucci.