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Two city charter schools facing shutdown

"We are exploring our options"
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Posted at 6:18 PM, Apr 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-01 18:18:47-04

BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — The Buffalo School Board voted Wednesday to shuttered two city charter schools, Enterprise and Westminster Community charter schools.

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Enterprise Charter School, Oak Street, Buffalo & Westminster Community Charter School in Kensington-Bailey neighborhood.

If the schools are forced to close by the end of June it would mean nearly 1,000 school students will need to find a new school.

“In a bit of shock and certainly very concerned with the decision,” responded Thomas Ess, interim board chair, Enterprise Charter School. “With all due respect, we just don't think that now is the right time for our students to be put in that position.”

Ess says they were not expecting to lose their charter.

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Thomas Ess, interim board chair, Enterprise Charter School in Zoom interview.

Enterprise and Westminster were started by the Buffalo Public School District that’s why the district has the right to renew or decline the charter, instead of the state Board of Regents.

The school board voted to close both schools saying they are underperforming.

Park district board member Lou Petrucci doesn't agree with the board's vote.

“My preference would have been for a short renewal with a very specific terms and conditions that are needed to be met,” Petrucci explained.

Petrucci says with COVID, remote learning and no assessments last year, the schools should have been given more time.

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Park district board member Lou Petrucci.

“I just felt, in my conscious, I really needed to vote to give them that additional year or so — additional time to see where they turn around and what the assessments show,” said Petrucci.

“We had no opportunity to show growth in our New York State test scores,” Ess remarked.

At Enterprise charter 18-percent of students in grades three through eight were proficient in ELA and 13-percent in math for the 2018-2019 school year.

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Outside Enterprise Charter School in Buffalo.

At Westminster, 22-percent of three through eight were proficient in ELA and 19-percent in math.

Those numbers are very close when compared with third through eighth graders in Buffalo Public Schools were students were 25% proficient in ELA and 19-in math.

“Your numbers are very close to the city school numbers as far as performance?”, Buckley questioned.

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Thomas Ess, interim board chair, Enterprise Charter School in Zoom interview.

“And in some ways the schools that our students would be looking to go into are fairing far worse,” Ess replied.

“What do you tell school families?”, asked Buckley.

“Asking them to consider them to stay with us if the opportunity exists come the fall. We are providing them as much information as we can,” responded Ess. “Obviously we don't agree with the decision and we feel strongly that we are going to move forward with working on ways to make sure the school can stay open.”

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Outside Enterprise Charter School.

“We are exploring our options — can't get into specific details as of yet, but we are looking at our options,” said Ess.

One of those options could be legal action.

Charter school advocate Broderick Cason says that's what Pinnacle Charter School leaders did when it was forced to close eight years ago to give families more time to find a new school.

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Charter school advocate Broderick Cason in a Zoom interview.

“It did give us an opportunity for it to work itself out a bit better if we had closed — ten — 15 days before school started,” Cason noted.

Cason said when Pinnacle closed in 2012, more than 500 students and about 60 teachers were without a school.

Cason has been a long-time supporting of charter learning.

“It gives parents an opportunity to have their child in a parochial school level environment of education without the barrier of tuition,” Cason said.

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Outside Westminster Community Charter School in Buffalo.

As for the future of Westminster, there is the possibility city school district could take over and run it as a regular public school.

But the school is part of the Promise Neighborhood in Kensington-Bailey and has had a long term partnership with M&T Bank and there's no word yet on how that would work.

7 Eyewitness News reached out to school leadership at both Westminster, but have yet to receive a response.

Ess said the Enterprise school board was scheduled to meet Thursday evening to discuss the situation.

According to a Buffalo Schools spokesperson, "the Buffalo School Board has directed the superintendent to collaborate and develop a plan with each school to protect the educational stability of the students for next year and beyond."