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Charter-public school tension surfaces in King Center's renewal

The call for a moratorium on new charter schools in Buffalo didn't go anywhere – but the underlying message still got through in Albany.

The issue came up again last week when the State University of New York renewed the charter for the King Center Charter School on Newburgh Avenue, but only based on the school meeting some additional academic conditions to be eligible for renewal again in five years. For instance, its students will have to meet at least five of nine English language arts measures and four of seven math measures for the school to apply for renewal.

In adding those conditions, SUNY trustees were keeping in mind the underlying tensions between local charter schools and the Buffalo Board of Education, which asked the state in September to issue a three-year moratorium on charters in Buffalo as the district continues to lose students to new charters.

That request was denied.

No moratorium on Buffalo charter schools, state says

"We've heard from the Buffalo School Board, people in the community," said Joseph Belluck, chairman of SUNY's Charter Schools Committee. "They obviously have been writing to us, they've asked for a moratorium on charter schools in Buffalo, so there's quite a bit of attention focused on this.

"We're sensitive to that," Belluck told officials from the King Center school. "It also puts pressure on us to try to navigate this in the right way."

The state, in fact, also recommended that another Buffalo school – Oracle Charter School on Delaware Avenue – not have its charter renewed and close at the end of the school year in June. The school's appeal will be heard Jan. 25.

Citing poor performance, state recommends closing Oracle Charter School

While pressure from the school district was not mentioned as a reason for not renewing Oracle's charter, Belluck did say SUNY – one of the authorizing state agencies for charter schools – needs to think about its renewal policy for charter schools not doing much better than those in the district.

"While you are generally better than the district, it's not by a large margin," Belluck told King Center officials Tuesday in New York City during a meeting broadcast via the web. "When I look at the numbers and I see less than 25 percent of the kids are meeting the (English language arts) target, to me that's very problematic. It means 75 percent of the kids in your school are not."

"I struggle with why we should continue to renew schools that are performing this way," Belluck said, "because it just seems to be at a certain point the school has to show it can do this, or we should not continue and let those dollars go back to the district or another charter school."

SUNY ultimately renewed the charter for the King Center based on the recommendation from the Charter Schools Institute. The institute, charged with evaluating charter school applications and monitoring their performance for recommendations to SUNY trustees, indicated King offered a quality structural program.

The school first opened in 2000 and is one of Buffalo's oldest charters, serving roughly 450 students in grades kindergarten through 8.

Antoinette Rhodes, principal at King, said she, too, is disappointed with the school's test scores and has been working on ways to boost student performance, including changing the curriculum last year and collaborating with a charter school in Rochester on best practices.

"We have much work to do," Rhodes told SUNY trustees, "but we need an opportunity to do that work."

The principal also hinted at the underlying tensions in Buffalo between charters and traditional public schools.

"It's not easy to go and collaborate with people. They don't share resources like that, " Rhodes said. "We have to go outside our city, go to Rochester, because in Buffalo you don't have people you can collaborate with to help you come up with ways to be a better school."

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