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ANOTHER LOOK AT CHARTERS
HAVING VOTED FOR MORATORIUM, MAJORITY ON BOARD NEEDS TO CONDUCT VALID STUDY

It's difficult to criticize an organization that wants to study an important issue. No one should be afraid of information. That said, the Buffalo Board of Education's vote to study district-sponsored charter schools while imposing a one-year moratorium looks more like a ploy than a plan.

The narrow 5-4 vote in favor of the moratorium reflected the board's divide. The vote came one month after four board members -- who have been consistent opponents of charter schools -- tried and failed to establish a three-year moratorium. That effort failed when Central District board member Janique Curry abstained. This time, she voted in favor.

It is hard to have confidence that the study will be even-handed. The majority that voted for this study has made no secret of its opposition to charter schools, and it has no idea how to go about it or how much it will cost. Board member at large Catherine Collins sponsored the amorphous moratorium.

Moreover, it is an effort that chooses to ignore reality. These five board members have disdainfully turned the back of their hand to Buffalo parents desperate to provide the best education for their children. There are two to six children applying for every opening for a charter school, according to the State University of New York's Charter Schools Institute.

The driving force behind those opposed to charter schools is Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore. He pledged to fight the charter school concept by electing board members who would vote against a plan for the Buffalo School District to sponsor its own charters. And if you are of the opinion that it's OK to do what you can for your members regardless of other consequences, that is perfectly acceptable behavior. But if your view is that too many Buffalo school students are failing, and may do better in charter schools freed of bureaucratic regulations and constraining union rules, then you would support charter schools as a way to improve these youngsters' future.

In fact, that is what Rumore has said, that he and the union are committed to doing what is best for the students. But it's difficult to rationalize that statement as they fight charter schools at every opportunity.

Even if Rumore and the five board members are successful in staving off district charters, it would be a hollow victory. Should the district refuse to sponsor charters -- which it would control as the sponsoring agency -- those wishing to open such schools will simply turn to the state Board of Regents or the State University of New York, leaving Buffalo with no say over the schools' operations or finances.

Not all charters work, but there is enough evidence to suggest that properly run, they can offer a legitimate alternative to a public school system hamstrung by bureaucratic rules and union resistance to change. The focus here ought to be about educating children.

Greater Buffalo Academy Charter School is racing against the clock to win board approval by Jan. 1. Other groups that are either in the process of seeking district-sponsored charters or planning to do so will likely turn to the state.

The onus is now on the five members who voted for the moratorium to produce a useful study that will justify both the expenditure they are making and the time they may be wasting.

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