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Buffalo School Board agrees to close two charter schools

Buffalo School Board agrees to close two charter schools

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“These decisions are very difficult to make,” said School Board President Sharon Belton-Cottman. “We’re very cognizant these are children's lives we’re talking about.”

Buffalo Public Schools has long complained about growing competition from city charter schools, and on Wednesday they had the chance to get rid of two of them.

They took it.

The Board of Education voted to close Enterprise and Westminster Community charter schools, two long-running charters with nearly 1,000 students.

“These decisions are very difficult to make,” said School Board President Sharon Belton-Cottman. “We’re very cognizant these are children's lives we’re talking about.”

Both Enterprise and Westminster would close by the end of June, but the School Board wants to bring back Westminster as a Buffalo Public School, just as it was 17 years ago before being converted to a charter.

“It was an excellent Buffalo Public School and it will be an excellent Buffalo Public School again if it is converted,” said Central District Board Member Paulette Woods.

The futures of both Westminster, located in the Kensington-Bailey neighborhood, and Enterprise, on the edge of downtown, were in jeopardy in the face of board criticism that their proficiency rates in math and English language arts have historically been lower than the district-wide average and need to be better.

Eighteen percent of Enterprise students in grades three through eight were considered proficient in English language arts during the 2018-19 school year, while 13% were proficient in math, according to the most recent state data.

At Westminster, 22% of students in grades three through eight were proficient in ELA, while 19% were proficient in math.

As a comparison, 25% of Buffalo Public School students in grades three through eight were proficient in ELA, while 19% were proficient in math.

Westminster and Enterprise have argued that the most recent state scores are from two years ago and are better than those at many district schools with a similar percentage of poor students.

The charters also tried to make the argument that since their last renewal in 2019, they have had little time to prove themselves before the Covid-19 pandemic hit and upended the entire education system.

It didn’t work.

“We all took into consideration that this was a Covid year,” Belton-Cottman said. “This is not based on one year, this is based on a pattern of over a decade.”

Belton-Cottman, a vocal critic of charter schools, said the statement made by the board on Wednesday was a resetting of the bar for charters in the city to be innovative and maintain a high performance.

Enterprise, at 275 Oak St., opened in August 2003, and was touted as the only charter in the state authorized by its local school district. The school has more than 400 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.

Westminster, at 24 Westminster Ave., was once part of the city school system before being converted to a charter school in the fall of 2004. The school, which has long had a partnership with M&T Bank, has roughly 550 students in kindergarten through eighth grades and its staff are still members of the district’s unions.

The decision doesn’t come as a total surprise.

The city school system has long complained about growing competition from the independently-run charters and, in this case, had the unusual opportunity to close down two of them.

The state Board of Regents or the State University of New York would normally make that determination, but Buffalo Public Schools sponsored Enterprise and Westminster in the early days of the charter movement and has the final say on whether they should be closed.

Neither were unanimous decisions.

The School Board voted 8 to 1 to close Westminster and convert it back to a Buffalo Public School, with Park District Board Member Lou Petrucci voting against. The board voted 7 to 2 to close Enterprise, with Petrucci and At-large Board Member Terrance Heard voting against.

“My preference would have been a short-term renewal with very specific conditions,” Petrucci said.

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