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Buffalo Academy of Science is latest casualty in battle over charter schools

Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School is one of the top-performing schools in Buffalo.

Its graduation rate was 94% last year. Proficiency rates in math and English language arts are well above the county-wide average. In fact, the state recently signed off on Buffalo Academy of Science opening a second school this fall.

So it came as a shock this month when the state Board of Regents, the governing body for the State Education Department, denied a five-year renewal for the charter, forcing the school of 16 years to close at the end of June. However, school officials said a legal challenge could buy them at least an extra year.

“The parents are all surprised, the teachers are all surprised, because we were so confident that everything is good,” said Joseph Polat, the school’s executive director. “Everyone was expecting an easy renewal and then move on.

“Now, I’m having a hard time explaining it to parents and the community, because there is no rational explanation. They’re asking, ‘Why?’ and I don’t know why.”

Buffalo Academy of Science, which has grown to 780 students at three locations since opening in 2004, is the latest casualty in the on-going political battle between charters and traditional public schools.

Charters are public schools that are run independently as an alternative for parents dissatisfied with the “traditional” public school. The school district, in turn, redirects state aid to charters for every student they enroll, fueling long-simmering tensions between the two sides over the money charters get.

In fact, Buffalo Public Schools has intensified its objections in recent years as a growing number of charters enter the local market, taking students and dollars away from a district that’s now struggling to make ends meet due to the financial fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Catherine Collins, who represents Western New York on the Board of Regents, said she took her cue from the school district and voted against the renewal.

“The district has been battling this issue for quite awhile,” Collins said Monday. “It just happened to come to a head with this charter school that came up for renewal.”

The Board of Regents ultimately voted down the renewal by a vote of 9 to 7 due to the “financial impact on home district,” Polat said.

But Polat pointed out that two other local charter schools, Health Sciences and Charter School of Applied Technologies, also were up for renewal and received enough votes during the May 4 meeting to win approval.

Polat also argued that Buffalo Academy of Science – BuffSci, as it’s known – has one of the strongest academic records among all schools across the city.

More than 45% of BuffSci students in grades three through eight were proficient in ELA last year, according to state data. Only City Honors, Olmsted 64 and 156 and Elmwood Village Charter Schools at Days Park and Hertel Avenue performed better.

Likewise, nearly 53% of BuffSci students in grades three through eight were proficient in math, state data shows. Only City Honors, Olmsted 64 and West Buffalo Charter School performed better.

BuffSci has a high school at 190 Franklin St.; a middle school at 100 Poplar Ave.; and an elementary school at 89 Clare St.

The State Education Department had recommended renewal for BuffSci and is expected to bring the matter back to the Board of Regents for another vote at its next meeting in June, according to Polat.

What also makes the decision puzzling, Polat said, is BuffSci recently received approval by the state to open a second school.

BuffSci II is slated to open in the fall on Doat Street in the city’s Schiller Park neighborhood, starting with 88 children in kindergarten and first grade. Preference is being given to children who speak English as a second language.

Meanwhile, parents and members of the community are rallying in support of BuffSci, which has an enrollment that is 65% African American and 90% low income.

Supporters, led by education advocate Duncan Kirkwood, on Monday called members of the Board of Regents who denied the renewal and asked them to change their vote. Kirkwood said the closing of BuffSci would displace hundreds of students who would be left to attend other schools that are lower performing.

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