Sale of School Sparks Controversy

July 8, 2011 Updated Jul 8, 2011 at 6:33 PM EDT

By Kyla Igoe

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July 8, 2011 Updated Jul 8, 2011 at 6:33 PM EDT

Buffalo, NY (WKBW) - The potential sale of a Buffalo Public School has created some controversy. Buffalo Public School # 36 on the city's West Side has been closed for a number of years. Two charter schools had their eyes on the property to purchase it, including Elmwood Village Charter School (EVCS) and West Buffalo Charter School (WBCS). The Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center has partnered with D'Youville College to create West Buffalo Charter School. The group would like to establish a school focused on language and literacy. Elmwood Village Charter School would like the property so it can expand. Both schools bid on the shuttered building twice. Both times WBCS had the higher bid, at difference of about $250,000, but a Buffalo Common Council Committee keeps approving the lower bid from EVCS. The approvals happened even though WBCS sued and won a lawsuit proving the city's sale-by-appraisal process was not followed. Committee members say their approval was based on track-records.

"I'd say support the program that's currently running successfully," said Common Council President David Franczyk. "Not a wing and a prayer for one that maybe successful or might go out of business. I'm fully in support of the Elmwood Village Charter school."

Common Council Member Richard Fontana would like to see the property go up for auction, instead of a sale-by-appraisal method.

"Why aren't we taking the higher bidder?," said Fontana. "But what you have is the community rallying around the Elmwood Charter."

Officials with the Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center agree EVCS is a successful school, but say they're program is successful too and their language and literacy program has been used across the country including in Seattle and New Orleans. The Buffalo Hearing and Speech Center believes it's unfortunate two qualified entities are battling for the same property.

"It's not about West Buffalo Charter or about Elmwood Village Charter. It's about the needs of the city," said Buffalo Hearing and Speech President and CEO Joseph Cozzo. "It's about those students that are in those zip codes, and have no options."

The common council will meet on Tuesday to vote on the EVCS bid. West Buffalo Charter says it's looking at every option including other locations and a possible partnership with the Buffalo Public School District. In the meantime, it will continue to try and secure Buffalo School # 36. Because of this delay, WBCS will have to ask the state for an extension on it's planning year since the school is not operating yet. It's unclear if another lawsuit will be filed in this dispute.