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MASTER PLAN SUGGESTS CLOSING 10 TO 12 SCHOOLS

A preliminary master plan for Buffalo Public Schools suggests closing 10 to 12 elementary schools over the next decade to save money, improve instruction and balance the system's physical space with its declining enrollment.

The proposal would leave the system, which already has closed a number of schools in recent years, with 61 to 63 schools, compared with 78 when it was hit by a severe fiscal crunch shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The proposal is based on consultants' projections that enrollment will fall about 12 percent over five years, to 38,000 students from 43,000. Other studies have indicated that enrollment might drop to as low as 31,000 in 10 years.

"From a population standpoint, the need (for the current number of schools) doesn't exist," said Kevin J. Brennan, senior project manager for Hillier, the architectural firm that, with the Ciminelli Construction Cos., is coordinating the master plan study. "From a cost standpoint, it's simply not supportable. The district should reflect its population."

Schools officials welcomed the initial report as a solid starting point for discussion, but they and the consultants stressed that the plan will not be finalized until after a series of public meetings, and that it will be updated from year to year.

"None of this is a done deal, and that has to be crystal clear to everyone," said Donald A. Van Every, chairman of the Board of Education's Finance Committee.

The proposed closings would produce a complex situation for school officials, since they would coincide with a $1 billion school renovation and construction project, plus efforts to provide greater choice for both elementary school pupils and high school students, as well as boost performance.

School officials view it as an opportunity to provide updated facilities, better programs and a more efficient school system.

At the same time, school closings often are among the most controversial and heated issues in public education.

"It's never going to be easy, but it's something we have to do," said Jack Coyle, president of the Board of Education. "Based on our enrollment and our finances, we have to consolidate."

Under the initial draft, the following schools would close -- at least temporarily -- over a 10-year period:

Early Childhood Center School 61, located at 453 Leroy Ave. and housing 509 pupils in prekindergarten through fourth-grade.

Campus North School 63, 120 Minnesota Ave., 532 pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Early Childhood Center School 78, 345 Olympic Ave., 431 pupils in prekindergarten through second grade.

School 18 Annex, 179 Albany St., an adjunct of the Dr. Antonia Pantoja Community School of Academic Excellence.

School 77, 370 Normal Ave., 550 pupils in prekindergarten through fourth grade.

Community School 53, 329 Roehrer Ave., 485 pupils in prekindergarten through eighth grade.

Follow Through Urban Learning Lab School 8, 167 E. Utica St., 683 pupils in prekindergarten through eight grade.

School 40, 89 Clare St., 302 pupils in prekindergarten through fourth grade.

WEB Early Childhood Center School 71, 156 Newburgh St., 453 pupils in prekindergarten through fourth grade.

Highgate Heights Elementary School Annex, 10 Hastings Ave., prekindergarten and kindergarten.

District officials describe those proposed moves as "suspensions of service," and not closings, since some of the schools could be reopened at a later date.

Several other closings are listed in an "Option B" category, and building additions and grade changes are suggested for numerous schools throughout the city.

The draft, for example, suggests expanding City Honors Schools' high school component and relocating it to what is now Seneca Vocational High School at 666 E. Delavan Ave. The current City Honors building at 186 E. North St. would be used for a citywide prekindergarten through eighth grade program for high achieving pupils.

The Board of Education is expected to vote on a final master plan in the fall. Even then, the document would be a guideline, and not a firm commitment to follow specific recommendations.

"This is a framework," Brennan said. "These names (of schools to be closed) will change and could change dramatically. We're a whole public outreach section away from presenting options. It's too early in the process to call any of these closed facilities."

Public outreach meetings will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. June 16 in the Pfc. William J. Grabiarz School of Excellence, School 79, 225 Lawn Ave.; from 7 to 9 p.m. June 19 in Buffalo Traditional School, 450 Masten Ave.; and from 7 to 9 p.m. June 23 in Southside Elementary School, School 93, 430 Southside Parkway.

The proposal will be outlined to the Joint Schools Construction Board, from 3 to 5 p.m. June 16 in City Hall; to elected officials, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. June 20 in Emerson Commons, 70 W. Chippewa St.; and to business officials, from 8:30 to 10 a.m. June 24 in Emerson Commons.

LOCATOR MAP: SCHOOL CLOSINGS

Under a preliminary master plan, the Buffalo Public Schools may close these schools, at least on a temporary basis, over the next 10 years:
1. Early Childhood Center School 61, currently enrolls 509 students, prekindergarten through fourth grade.
2. Campus North School 63, 532 students, kindergarten through eighth grade.
3. Early Child Center School 78, 431 students, prekindergarten through second grade.
4. School 18 Annex, an adjunct of the Dr. Antonia Pantoja Community School of Excellence.
5. School 77, 550 students, prekindergarten through fourth grade.
6. Community School 53, 485 students, prekindergarten though eighth grade.
7. Follow Through Urban Learning Lab School 8, 683 students, prekindergarten through eighth grade.
8. School 40, 302 students, prekindergarten through fourth grade.
9. WEB Early Childhood Center School 71, 453 students, prekindergarten through fourth grade.
10. Highgate Heights Elementary School Annex, prekindergarten and kindergarten.

e-mail: psimon@buffnews.com

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