Enterprise Charter School won permission Wednesday evening from the Buffalo Board of Education to operate for another five years. The approval followed a series of tense, convoluted votes that initially made it appear that the school's request would be denied and it would be forced to shut down.
Instead, the board voted, 5-3, to grant the school a second five-year operating license on the condition that it meet goals for improvement in student achievement that were spelled out in its application.
The third and final vote prompted about 100 Enterprise supporters to stand and cheer, just moments after their campaign to keep the school open seemed doomed.
School officials said they will now proceed with plans to purchase the building they occupy at 275 Oak St. and to build a gymnasium.
The vote was a huge victory for Enterprise, which recently announced that it will close its high school component at the end of this school year at the urging of the state Board of Regents. Wednesday's vote, which must be affirmed the the Regents, would allow it to continue offering instruction in kindergarten through eighth grade.
"I feel very confident," said Jill Norton, Enterprise's chief executive officer. "I'm glad the board recognized our achievements."
But teachers, administrators and parents from Enterprise weren't feeling nearly as confident just moments earlier.
The first motion, which also called for a five-year renewal, needed five votes for approval but was defeated in a 4-4 vote. North District board member Catherine Nugent Panepinto was not present.
A second motion, which would have granted a three-year renewal, was defeated with five votes against and three in favor.
The board then appeared poised to vote on a two-year renewal when Park District board member Lou Petrucci instead introduced a motion for a five-year renewal contingent on Enterprise meeting student achievement goals spelled out in its application.
Petrucci, who voted against the two earlier motions, voted in favor of his resolution, allowing it to pass in a 5-3 vote.
Also voting in favor were board President Mary Ruth Kapsiak and members Christopher Jacobs, Florence Johnson and Ralph Hernandez. Catherine Collins, Vivian Evans and Pamela Perry-Cahill voted against the five-year extension.
Petrucci later said he changed his vote because his resolution requires Enterprise to register yearly improvements in pupil scores on state assessment tests in English and math.
"Enterprise is a diamond in the rough that still needs some polishing," he said.
Petrucci said he also was swayed by the fact that Enterprise is one of just two local charter schools that were licensed by the school district itself.
"It's our baby," he said. "We need to be responsible for our school."
Enterprise supporters said it is producing higher test scores than traditional city schools despite a higher rate of special education pupils and students living in poverty.
"Looking at the progress the school has made over a relatively short period of time is significant, very significant," Jacobs said.
Cahill said she has several concerns about the school -- including lack of student interaction in classes she visited -- and urged that the school be relicensed only one year at a time.