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LOVEJOY AREA MULLS STARTING CHARTER SCHOOL

A small exploratory committee is moving ahead with plans for setting up one of the state's new charter schools in the Lovejoy area.

At a meeting Thursday night, participants learned that the new state education legislation is not fully understood by residents and even city and education officials. The meeting was held at ABLEY, 1250 Bailey Ave., in the Monsignor Leo A. Geary senior citizens apartment complex.

Some participants see potential for such schools in helping to spur neighborhood revitalization and establishing a stronger link between parents and the schools, which would function outside the jurisdiction of local school boards.

"If we had the school, then 70 to 80 houses for families would be pulled into the area, and that would help both parochial and public schools," former Lovejoy Council Member Norman M. Bakos said.

East District School Board member Marlies A. Wesolowski said, "I don't have a problem with giving you information and sitting in to listen to your meetings, but I have to see where you're going. As a board member, I don't want to do anything that would get me back in front of (U.S. District Judge John T.) Curtin."

The Buffalo School Board recently was released from a federal court mandate that goes back some 20 years to desegregate its school system.

Mrs. Wesolowski said school officials, along with representatives from the county and area foundations, are exploring ways to combine social services centers and schools -- a move that could save tax dollars.

However, she noted that the plaintiffs in the case reserved the right to reinstate court control if the board took actions to resegregate schools.

Amy Prentiss, a longtime parent advocate, also attended the meeting, representing Joseph E. Ryan, Buffalo's commissioner of community development. Lovejoy is one of the city's few neighborhoods that has not seen the construction of new single-family homes.

Nevertheless, 60 new families moved into the neighborhood last year, buying existing homes, according to Florence Przybylski, who manages an $8,000 matching grant the association used to assemble a booklet of neighborhood businesses and discount coupons.

Several of the dozen or so people attending the meeting were members of the East Lovejoy Business and Taxpayers Association. The idea for starting a charter school came up in focus groups sponsored by the association, said William Schroeder, president of the group. He said the school could play an important role in attracting young, middle-class families to the neighborhood.

Some members of the charter schools group are eyeing the former St. Francis Catholic School on Ogden Street. The building was being used as School 43 before the school moved to its present location on Benzinger Street.

However, a priest who attended the meeting made it clear that the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is taking a hard look at the new charter school legislation recently passed in Albany. It could mean increased competition for students who attend Catholic schools, which of late have seen an increase in enrollments.

"We are talking about an integrated school," Bakos said at one point.

The committee has scheduled meetings at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 and 25 and March 11 at the same site.

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