The Buffalo Board of Education is recommending that the state renew its contracts with Westminster and Enterprise charter schools for another two years, with some board members pushing for even longer extensions.
Although the two schools have shown lackluster test results, both district and board officials said that both schools have presented promising plans for how they intend to improve student performance.
School district leaders advised the board during its meeting Wednesday to ask the state to renew each of the charters for another two years.
But board member Carl Paladino argued that the board should ask for the maximum extension of five years because the two schools have demonstrated they have strong community support – both schools have waiting lists – and should be given more time to prove themselves without seeking another renewal.
Westminster also has a strong partnership with M&T Bank and is part of the city’s Promise Neighborhood project.
“I question whether we are trying to choke these schools,” said Paladino, a vocal advocate for charter schools. “Here we are saying these people have to maintain a certain level of excellence that we cannot.”
Charter schools are publicly funded but are run my independent boards. The state approves them to operate for a limited time, during which they must prove they are financially and academically viable. The schools then can seek a renewal of their charter.
National research on the effectiveness of charter schools is mixed. While some successfully outperform traditional public schools, many lag in terms of student performance.
That is the case with both Westminster and Enterprise, based on the most recent round of state standardized tests.
In reading, only about 8 percent of Westminster students were deemed proficient, and about 7 percent of Enterprise students met the state standard. That compared with 11.5 percent of Buffalo Public Schools’ students.
In math, about 14 percent of Westminster students were deemed proficient, slightly outpacing the district’s rate of 10 percent. Enterprise again lagged behind the Buffalo Public Schools, with just 8 percent of its students meeting state math standards.
“They have not consistently met the targets they have laid out in their charters,” said Superintendent Pamela C. Brown.
“The process with the state is very high-stakes,” said Angela Cullen, director of the district’s Office of School Leadership. “It’s important to gather as much information as possible.”
Although the state has the ultimate authority to approve and renew charters, the Buffalo School Board does make recommendations on whether to renew the charters.
Ultimately, the majority of board members argued that the board should not recommend the longest renewal until the schools showed better results.
And some pointed out that even if the board recommended a longer renewal, the state might not approve it.
“If a charter school is not performing at a high level, it should not receive the longest extension,” said board member John Licata.