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Proposed charter school for Falls loses 5-0 vote in Council

NIAGARA FALLS – The City Council on Monday night voted unanimously to oppose a proposed charter school that city school district officials assert would take revenue away from the district and cause staff cuts in city schools.

The five-member Council called on the state Board of Regents to reject the creation of any new charter schools, not just in the city, but throughout Niagara County.

Officials from the city school district, some of whom attended the Council meeting in City Hall, have contended that a new charter school in the city would syphon roughly $5 million from its coffers, which they said would result in lost jobs for city residents, since the district has a residency policy for employees.

“Economics does play a part of it,” said Council Chairman Charles A. Walker, pointing to the potential job losses for city residents.

A charter school would not necessarily employ city residents, district officials said.

A group has filed a letter of intent with the state to create the Academy of Learning and Leadership Charter School at an undetermined location in the city.

A full application was due to the state near the end of March. If the application is accepted, a public hearing would be held on the issue, with a vote in June by the Board of Regents on whether to approve it.

Deputy Superintendent Mark R. Laurrie said the district opposes the charter school application on multiple grounds – not only from a financial point of view, but also because it argues the school will not offer anything not already offered by the city schools. Laurrie also said there was an element of “equity” involved, as well.

Two city lawmakers, Councilwoman Kristen M. Grandinetti and Councilman Andrew P. Touma, are employed by the city school district. Both voted to oppose the charter school despite what may be seen as a potential conflict of interest. Grandinetti and Touma contended that they have no such conflict.

Touma said the issue does not affect his job because he is not in danger of losing it because he has seniority.

Grandinetti said that if she were to lose her job, she has another career to fall back on, though most others who would lose their jobs don’t.

“I feel that I have a responsibility as a public servant and as an educator to stand up for the children; that was what motivated me,” Grandinetti said.

While the text of the resolution opposed charter schools across the county, both Grandinetti and Touma indicated that the opposition was more focused on this specific proposal for the school in the city.

Grandinetti said she believes that school district officials would have been open to a charter school that had a different focus, such as on arts and technology.

In another matter, the Council approved, 3-2, an agreement with Desman Associates to implement a plan to improve the city’s downtown parking system. Similar agreements had been rejected twice previously by the Council.