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Expansion of Tapestry charter school put off for one year

The 840 students of Buffalo’s Tapestry Charter School will continue to attend classes at its current location, 65 Great Arrow Ave., for the next academic year.

After an hourlong meeting Wednesday including parents and teachers, the school’s board of trustees voted, 10-1, to reject the proposal to move kindergarten through fifth-grade classes to the old School 78 building, 345 Olympic Ave., for the 2016-17 school year. Currently, students from kindergarten through 12th grade are schooled at the Great Arrow campus

The board also voted unanimously to come up with a new proposal for a second site, including the possible use of the old Olympic Avenue school if it is still available in the fall.

Thomas M. Ramming, board chairman, said after the meeting that the 15-year-old charter school, which began initially with kindergarten through fourth grade on North Street in 2001, “will not expand in the fall.”

Although the board’s decision was applauded by the dozens of parents on hand for the meeting in the elementary school cafeteria, Lynn Seagren Bass, principal of Tapestry High School, criticized the board action, blaming it on “white parents who do not want to go” to Olympic Avenue, which is in the city’s largely African-American Masten District.

Bass called the old School 78 building a “delightful,” affordable facility that could be easily renovated for the start of the next school year. Bass, who is white, said she was “ashamed” of the board’s decision and pointed out that Tapestry Charter, which holds lotteries each April to select new students, has mostly African-American students.

Wednesday’s development came two days after nearly 100 parents met with Tapestry administrators at the school, with many complaining about the lack of parent involvement in the two-campus selection process that began in January. After Wednesday’s board session, Ramming said, “We screwed up in not opening up” broader involvement in the process.

During the meeting, trustee Richard C. Bryan said the school needs to expand beyond the Great Arrow campus and called for a new “timetable” to plan for such an expansion. He also said the old Olympic Avenue school is not the “right property to expand to at the moment.”

At Bryan’s suggestion, trustees agreed to bring parents and faculty members into the expansion process. The goal, he added, is to develop a plan “in the best interests of the kids.”

During the meeting, teachers and Eric D. Klapper, chief operating officer for the school, made the case for the expansion.

Klapper said that the Olympic building was most suitable for younger students and the most economical to renovate, and noted that although the school purchased more property around the Great Arrow school, expanding on that property is considered “cost-prohibitive.”

Ramming said expansion at the school’s current site would cost about $200 per square foot, with renovations to the old Olympic school are estimated at $50 a square foot.

Trustee Teo Balbach was critical of the board’s plans to obtain $5 million over the next few years to buy and renovate the old school, which would involve sealing asbestos piping. The building, he said, “is not in the best interests of our institution.”

Nancy V. Wallace, the only trustee to vote in favor of the Olympic Avenue plan, called it “a good option” – one that would provide “a world-class education” for all Tapestry students.