An attorney for Pinnacle Charter School said Monday she hopes that negotiations with lawyers for the state Education Department will get the school’s children back in their classrooms Sept. 4, despite the state’s decision Friday to close the struggling charter school.
Stunned and angry parents of the school’s 560 students were signing affidavits of support for Pinnacle while also scrambling to figure out where to send their children next week if the Ash Street school remains closed.
Meanwhile, school administrators met Monday with state education representatives to discuss the official process of closing the school, should it come to that, even as lawyers promise to seek another court injunction to keep Pinnacle open.
“Right now, we don’t have a charter, and we cannot open the school,” said Linda A. Marszalek, the school’s chief academic officer. “We cannot act as if we are open – but we are very prepared and ready to go, providing we get the OK.”
Pinnacle’s attorney, Lisa A. Coppola, said she is looking for a negotiated agreement outside of court that is “reasonable and sensible” – words that were nowhere in evidence over an emotional weekend, when parents and teachers learned of the closure. The state Education Department notified Pinnacle on Friday that it was following through on plans to close the school, a day after the State Court of Appeals upheld an April 2012 vote by the Board of Regents not to renew the school’s charter.
The school has had dismal test scores and has missed its self-identified benchmarks in previous years, which led to the decision. A change in leadership in 2011 and a court injunction in June 2012 kept the school open for the 2012-13 school year, but two court decisions this summer upheld the Regents’ decision.
“For any of us who are parents, to get notice 10 days before school starts that the school is not going to open – the floor just drops out from under you,” said Coppola, the attorney.
She declined to discuss the specifics of her discussions with state education attorneys, or of filings she plans to make for a second injunction to stop the closing.
However, Marszalek says, a case can be made that Pinnacle is making progress in raising its students’ test scores and their overall prospects for success. She cited recent improvements in several testing areas and noted that students even held their own despite Pinnacle’s loss of 51 percent of its English teachers after the initial vote against the charter in 2012. “I’m hopeful the state will recognize we are changing – and there isn’t a viable alternative” for the students, she said.
Most of Pinnacle’s students live in the school’s East Side neighborhood, and their parents likely would turn to the Buffalo Public Schools if Pinnacle stays closed. School district administrators did not want to comment specifically on the case until the charter school exhausts its options but did indicate that the district – which has its own share of struggling schools – has the capacity to absorb the Pinnacle students if necessary.
In a statement Monday, Superintendent Pamela C. Brown said, “Pending the outcome of ongoing efforts being made by Pinnacle Charter School, we will reach out to their leadership in order to determine a way in which we can be helpful in identifying placement for the coming school year for those students whose parents have an interest in enrolling them in our schools.”
Exactly where the students would go is another question. Pinnacle students have missed the deadline to apply for transfers to “schools in good standing” – Buffalo’s schools with acceptable test scores – and all those slots have been filled.
And, while estimates in April 2012 were that the Buffalo district would save $6 million if it wasn’t supporting Pinnacle, it also would have to add about two dozen more teachers to handle 500 more students.
The Buffalo Teachers Federation does not represent charter school teachers, but its membership would be affected if their classrooms need to absorb a sudden influx of elementary students next week. BTF President Phil Rumore issued a statement Monday blasting the state’s action and Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.
“The decision by Commissioner King and the Board of Regents to close the school two weeks prior to the first day of school is but one more example of vindictiveness, regardless of how it will affect the students, parents and staff at the school,” Rumore said. “Even if the commissioner and Regents were to modify their stand, what kind of turmoil have they already caused?
“Where is the commissioner’s plan for relocation of these students – put them into Buffalo schools where there is no room?”
The Buffalo district is already coping this month with the transfer of more than 300 students from failing schools into “schools of good standing,” resulting in changes in bus routes and classroom assignments. It could be several more days before they know if more adjustments will be necessary.