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Another voice: Paladino took a personal risk in supporting Tapestry

By C. Teo Balbach

An oped recently ran in these pages criticizing School Board candidate Carl Paladino for accepting rent payments from charter schools. I am the chairman of the non-profit board of trustees of Tapestry Charter School, and I would like to set the record straight.

Yes, Paladino is our landlord, and we happily pay him rent every month. Please know that Paladino is not making “remarkable profits” by leasing space to Tapestry; he actually contributed approximately $1 million to the school to get our facility built.

Five years ago, Tapestry was crowded in multiple inadequate facilities, and we needed a new, permanent home. We had no money. We plowed every dollar into our academic program. Like a young couple with two good jobs but no savings, we did not have the money for a down payment on our new house.

We looked everywhere for financing for our new building. In order to instill academic accountability, the state will issue only a five-year license (or charter) for a charter school to operate. We had a five-year license to be in business, and we needed a multimillion-dollar special purpose building with little resale value. We had no down payment. It was a hard deal to get done.

We talked to every financial institution we could find. We canvassed the local banks and the ECIDA. I talked to the surviving post-crash Wall Street banks. We considered a long list of outlandish bond schemes from groups in Minnesota and Arizona. Absolutely no financial institution was interested in our risky project. Except Paladino.

He issued a guarantee to a local bank to secure a $12-million bank loan for the new building. That means that if we are unable to pay for some reason, Carl would be on the hook for the loan. Tapestry’s second-best financing choice wanted to charge $1 million for a similar deal, although that group ultimately did not have the money or capacity to complete the project. Additionally, Paladino and Ellicott Development gave us the option to buy our building.

Tapestry recently held its lottery for enrollment. We had 237 applications for our 52 kindergarten spots, and we had 244 applications for our 84 ninth grade spots. Overall Tapestry had more than 1,100 lottery applications from a district with 33,000 students. In the bizarre politics of state educational funding, charter school students are financially treated like ugly stepchildren. Charter kids receive a fraction of the per-student operating funds that their host districts receive, and they receive no dedicated facility financing. Urban education is extremely challenging, but Tapestry Charter School shows that education in Buffalo is a solvable problem. Tapestry is able to deliver its program to the children of Buffalo because of the professional competence of Ellicott Development and the incredible personal generosity of Carl Paladino.

C. Teo Balbach is chairman of the board of trustees of Tapestry Charter School.