Parents of students at Global Concepts Charter School watched for a year as longtime teachers and administrators left the elementary school in Lackawanna.
Many staff members left voluntarily, resigning at an average rate of two per month according to the minutes of board meetings posted on the school's website.
But popular elementary school principal David Ehrle did not want out of the 684-student school with its exemplary music program and Fine Arts Learning Center named after Broadway playwright and actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
On March 6, Ehrle was placed on paid administrative leave.
The action came three days after teachers at the charter school on Ridge Road voted to unionize.
Ehrle – who had taught in Lockport, Buffalo and at Global Concepts as a third-, fourth-, fifth- and seventh-grade teacher – served as assistant principal for four years. At the time of his departure, Ehrle was in his fourth year as principal.
Ehrle's departure shocked some parents, and prompted some to picket outside the school on Monday afternoon. At least one is convinced that Ehrle's exit is connected to the union vote.
"We can't think of any reason why they would want to get rid of him other than the teachers formed a union," said Calene Cross of South Buffalo, who has a son in the third grade. "He's been gone three weeks, and we have not been told anything. I was handed a notice [of Ehrle's departure] in the parking lot by another parent. As parents we want answers. We want to know why this principal was let go and why they won't tell us."
After Ehrle's departure, the students – including her son – were called into the auditorium for an assembly and told the principal was "taking a break," Cross said.
Tracy McGee, who was named Global Charters permanent CEO on March 6, said he could not comment on the matter because it involved personnel issues. Ehrle could not be reached for comment.
Complicating the situation, the monthly meeting of the School Board scheduled for March 22 was canceled.
McGee confirmed the cancellation was due to a lack of quorum. But parents believed that without a meeting, they were denied a platform to ask questions.
On Friday, a small group of parents presented McGee a petition with 186 signatures requesting a board meeting before April 26, the date of the next scheduled meeting.
"The staff morale is low," said Joelle Druzbik, the mother of a ninth-grader, who helped organize parent picketing at the school. "We started losing staff last year. We lost our dean of students Fred Hahn last summer to a position in Cheektowaga. He was wonderful. He pushed positivity."
Furthermore, Druzbik said Director of Curriculum Jeanne Trabuzzi resigned during the 2015-2016 school year after she was asked to assume the role of CEO after the retirement of CEO Ron Wisher in the 2014-2015 school year. And physical education instructor Ann Marie Turner left her post.
"There's been a constant struggle between board and school administration," acknowledged Cross. "We believe this is the tipping point for our school."
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