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RARE ALLIES MAY SAVE VOCATIONAL CENTER

The Buffalo Vocational Technical Center may not close after all, following months of rancorous public debate over the future of the vocational school.

An unusual alliance on the Buffalo Board of Education figures into what could amount to a vote at Wednesday's board meeting to keep the school open.

The board voted, 6-3, in August to close the school, disperse its programs to other high schools and use the building to relieve lower grade overcrowding.

Two of the three board members in the alliance, board President Paul G. Buchanan and at-large member Donald Van Every, now favor keeping the school open but originally voted for its demise.

Van Every says money, not politics, figured in the change of heart.

"I think it was based on the numbers," Van Every said. "As a practical matter, the finances are as important to us as the politics."

The board originally hoped to include a major renovation of the vocational center as part of a $22 million supplemental construction request to the Common Council.

Now, Van Every, who is chairman of the Budget and Audit Committee, says the board can't handle the debt service on such a large amount of bonding, even if the Common Council had backed the $22 million request.

Wednesday, the board will be asked to vote on a $4.2 million supplemental request that does not include the center and effectively kills any plan to close it.

Buchanan and Van Every worked with the Rev. Darius Pridgen, another at-large member and a supporter of the vocational center, to craft suggestions for keeping the school open while addressing critics' complaints.

District officials say the school has a high dropout rate and poor daily attendance.

Among the suggestions: Keep the vocational center operating but bring in lower grades to relieve overcrowding in other schools while giving younger pupils vocational training.

The three members have sent a letter outlining their suggestions to fellow board members. But even without their alliance, Van Every says a series of recent votes on his Budget and Audit Committee convinces him the
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Schools: Plan frustrates Wesolowski
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plan to close the center is dead.

The decision of Buchanan, Van Every and Pridgen to compose the letter is noteworthy, because Pridgen rarely votes with the other two.

He more often aligns with Ferry District member Florence Johnson or Central District member Jan Peters, the other two African-American board members.

"It was three board members who are not always on the same page but worked together to bring about some resolution," Pridgen said of his alliance with Buchanan and Van Every.

East District member Marlies Wesolowski, who wanted the vocational center closed and the building used to relieve severe overcrowding in her district, was frustrated by the turnaround.

"I'm at least pleased that they at least recognize that there is a problem and they at least want to consider using (the vocational center) to relieve overcrowding," she said. "However, to do the things they're proposing, you need money to do it with. Where are the finances going to come from to do this?"

Van Every said his committee has considered that question and believes the district could get as much as $6.5 million in reimbursed building aid by using a $9.3 million reserve for renovations to existing school buildings.

The district had been drawing off the interest from that $9.3 million to pay the debt service on several large bond issues backed by the city, but the city is no longer guaranteeing annual $20 million bond-issue commitments.

The $9.3 million could be better used for renovations, and a cash outlay for renovations yields a faster reimbursement than renovations done through bonds, Van Every said.

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