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Board of Regents votes to close Pinnacle Charter school officials meet with attorneys to explore legal options

The Board of Regents voted Tuesday to close Pinnacle Charter School in June.

A recent state Education Department report recommended the board not renew the school's charter, citing concerns about the students' academic performance over the past few years.

The school's board members said they plan to fight the decision in court. There is no formal appeals process available through the state Education Department, but the board could file a court action to block the closing.

Broderick Cason, vice chairman of Pinnacle's board of trustees, said in a statement that school officials met with a Buffalo law firm Tuesday afternoon to talk about legal options.

"We have opened that dialogue and will have more to say in coming days," he said. "But we do intend to pursue whatever legal avenues are available to us to fight the regents' decision."

The school's chief academic officer, Linda Marszalek, said she is confident that scores from state tests this week and last week will document significant improvements at Pinnacle.

"I stepped in in August, knowing that this was one of the lowest-performing schools in the state, wanting to turn it around and make it a school of excellence," she said. "We had an indication from the state that we would have an opportunity to do that. All indications were that we would at least have an opportunity to show results from this year's testing when they were making a decision."

Students already have registered for next year, she said, and all 560 seats are full in the school, which serves kindergarten through eighth grade.

Parent information meetings are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the school at 115 Ash St.

Marszalek and Pinnacle board members have expressed concerns about the limited options that will be available to students if the school closes. Other charter schools, as well as the Buffalo Public Schools, already have conducted their student placement lotteries for 2012-13.

Louis J. Petrucci, president of the Buffalo School Board, and interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon said the district will welcome Pinnacle students in September.

"We're the public school system. We exist for every student in our city," Dixon said. "We have to be ready to absorb 500 students."

One of the possibilities district officials are considering, Petrucci said, is that of opening an entire school so that Pinnacle students could remain together as a group. The district owns several former schools that are no longer active but are used as temporary sites to house students while their school is being renovated.

"We've had discussions about trying to keep them together as a body, offer them a school building," Petrucci said. "That would be less disruptive to the student body."

That is one of several options under discussion, he said. Regardless of the exact form it takes, the district will find a way to accommodate all the students.

He noted that the influx of more than 500 students will keep district enrollment flat, neutralizing the annual loss of students to the suburbs, private schools and charter schools.

"If we got 500 kids, we'd not lose any students [in next year's enrollment figures] for the first time in a long time," Petrucci said. "That's huge. It's taken us 20 years to level out."

email: mpasciak@buffnews.com