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FAMILIES LEAVING BUFFALO FOR BETTER SCHOOLS

THESE ARE THE VOICES of Buffalo past.

The Sarkin family of Amherst. The Reilly family of Amherst. The Klarowski family of Tonawanda.

They are among those who left. Not because of crime. Not because of housing. Not because they didn't like city living.

It was the schools.

If there was any doubt that the middle class will flee to the suburbs when the city Board of Education fiddles with whatever good schools are left in Buffalo, these are the voices of reality.

The Sarkin family loved its Depew Avenue home and Buffalo neighborhood.

But faced with the choice of a neighborhood elementary school lacking even a playground, or the Olmsted school with good academics but almost 30 children per class and a program split among three buildings, the Sarkins weren't happy. When there was talk of changes at City Honors during the early 1990s, whatever faith the Sarkins had in the city schools vanished.

"Our daughter got into Olmsted, but when we were looking down the road, we didn't want to move her around again and again," says Marcia Sarkin. "We decided to move to an area that had good schools."

In 1992, the Sarkins moved to Eggertsville in the Amherst Central School district.

The Klarowskis sold their Buffalo home in 1989, and headed out to the Town of Tonawanda and the Kenmore-Tonawanda school district.

With a son in McKinley High School and two children in grammar schools -- Schools 69 and 82 -- Judy Klarowski was concerned when an entrance exam at McKinley was dropped. She was uncomfortable with the uncertainty over what schools her younger children would one day attend.

"Eighty-two and 69 were wonderful, but you could see no future," Mrs. Klarowski says. "Unless you get into Hutch Tech or City Honors, you are going nowhere in Buffalo."

The Reilly family left Buffalo for Kenmore when their daughter was just 11 months old. They later moved to Amherst.

"We picked Amherst because of the schools," Ruth Reilly says. "That was an easy one."

These are not Buffalo bashers.

All three profess to love the city and say they wanted to stay.

They've followed recent stories about the Buffalo school district's considering lotteries as an entrance to gifted programs at Olmsted and City Honors. They continued to read that the district backed away from those proposals, but that school officials still are unsure what the future holds since a court order mandating integration was lifted.

There are no regrets from these families about having left the city for suburban schools.

"I thought, boy, I'm glad we are in this situation and we don't have to worry about it every time we turn around," Mrs. Sarkin says.

"I have a lot of dear friends in the city who did stay," she continues. "My feeling is, if they screw up City Honors, the city is down the tubes. That is a key for a lot of people that have stayed."

Not that the suburban schools don't have their problems. In Williamsville, there are complaints of high taxes. In Lancaster, a redistricting plan is evoking parent protests. In Ken-Ton, full-day kindergarten is still a dream.

But those school districts remain places Buffalo residents with the financial means -- and a little prodding from the Buffalo school board -- flock to. Not from.

"If they would work on the schools, I know a lot of people that would live in the city," Mrs. Sarkin says. "Tons of people would live in the city, and we would have never moved."