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Buffalo school board considers which buildings charter schools can lease

The Buffalo school district currently has two vacant buildings that could be recommended for lease to charter schools in 2015-16, as well as five other occupied buildings that are being studied for alternate uses.

None of them, however, is cheap to operate, according to a district report presented to the Buffalo School Board on Wednesday.

Most come with operations and maintenance price tags of $200,000 and up, which charter schools would be expected to assume, scuttling the notion that charter schools would occupy these buildings “for free.”

In addition, some schools that could be made available for 2015-16 have had major renovation work performed on them, which would mean that charter schools may have to cover additional debt payments in order to occupy them.

Finally, the school board and the district are working on shifting a number of programs that would affect the district’s inventory. The board has discussed moving Middle Early College to Bennett High School, for instance, and creating a high school Montessori program where Middle Early College is currently located. Another vacant building, School 28 on South Park Avenue, is expected to become the new Emerson Culinary School Expansion this fall.

“These things are all interrelated,” said Interim Supt. Donald Ogilvie. “Believe me, I know there is an impatience to make sure we right-size our facilities and numbers of seats but there are so many moving parts, and not enough time to make the kind of decision you would like.”

Of the five vacant school buildings and five other occupied buildings that require further study for availability to charter schools, buildings that look as if they could be made available to charter schools by 2015-16 include:

• School 8, 167 E. Utica St., currently vacant, considered an “emergency backup” school site by the district. District-calculated annual operating costs: $235,524.

• School 18 Annex, 495 Normal Ave., annex to School 18 currently used as a parent center but available for charter use. District operating costs: $100,626.

• School 4, Academy School, 425 South Park Ave., currently used to house district alternative programs. Those programs are slated to move to East High School. District operating costs: $296,193 plus $427,000 in debt service.

• School 12, Central Registration Building, 30 Spruce St., currently used for student placement services. District operating costs: $224,531 plus $1.2 million in debt service.

Other schools were listed as possible choices, though they had more barriers to charter school occupancy.

The board agreed to add an extra hour to the district’s Finance and Operations Committee meeting next Wednesday so that the board could further discuss the matter.

In other news, the board also heard from a barrage of critics upset that the district is not fully funding physical education and continues to fall short of meeting state mandates despite adopting a health and wellness policy back in 2012.

In a rare show of solidarity, members of the District-Parent Coordinating Council, the Buffalo Parent Teachers Association and the Buffalo Teachers Federation all lobbied the board for the full funding of physical education programs in all schools.

Board member Carl Paladino said he would not vote for any school budget this year that did not fully fund physical education. Meanwhile, board member Larry Quinn asked for a detailed memo as to why the district has not implemented its health and wellness policy.

He suggested that this is an issue of money – it would cost $3 million to fund – and an issue of union agreements that make it hard for the district to lengthen the school day and schedule more gym classes.

This caused Ogilvie to remind everyone that it’s easier to advocate for something good than it is to pay for it. “It’s easy to pursue a value and articulate it – the benefits of phys ed, music, art, any number of things,” he said.

“It is almost as easy to create a policy that requires all that. The difficult part is to fund it.”