Under The Radar - Buffalo Magna Charter


By Francis White

I have a friend who’s from Buffalo who has been living in Washington D.C. for the past few years. The last time I visited he gave me and a friend a tour of the workforce development/job training program he’s the director of. It was really cool to see all the stuff they were doing down there and hearing about the unknown history of that city. We eventually got to a part of the tour he was not so proud about. There was a new charter school opening up in the space directly next door to them in the same building. He joked that he tried to convince them that the space wasn’t the right fit for a school, but to no avail.

Apparently charter schools have been touted as the savior of public education in many districts around the country for some years. My friend told me that the charter school movement in DC had been started about 10-15 years before the start of Buffalo’s “Charter School Revolution”. He said that there was really no evidence or results to prove that the charter school model was an improvement over the traditional public school model. In his experience, traditional public schools in DC (like in many U.S. cities) we’re just underfunded, or many of the program offerings got cut out of the budget. Thus, many of the vocational and job training programs that he was running, were only needed because these things had been cut out of traditional public school systems for many reasons, funding being a huge one. To him, he saw the charter school movement there as basically a tool for politicians and special interests that don’t have the needs of the children or community at large in their hearts.

News has broken that the Buffalo Board of Education is considering the closing of 4 schools to possibly turn them into charter schools. Is what my friend saw in DC unique to that city, or could it happen anywhere else? Kevin Connor of Lil Sis, one of the country’s foremost corporate accountability researchers had this to say the other day:

“No less than five area billionaire families invested in the Buffalo school board race earlier this year – the Jacobs', the Richest, Pegula, Golisano, and the ghost of Wilson (the Bills). And then, of course, there is Students First NY, backed by NYC hedge fund managers like Dan Loeb, Paul Tudor Jones, etc. They did this because they care deeply about poverty in Buffalo in their free time, when they're not breaking unions, sending jobs overseas, dodging taxes, lobbying for tax breaks and handouts, shredding the social safety net, poisoning our air and water, and, of course, paying the Jills nothing. Well done, billionaires. Way to fight inequality. Can't wait for those condos at Lafayette High School. Or will it be a Paladino charter setup?”

Citizen Action of New York and other groups who have taken the lead on this issue for the past couple of years, led the charge on 2 events this past Wednesday. One was held at Lafayette H.S. (one of the proposed schools to be closed), and the other was held outside the steps of Buffalo city hall. Here’s a press release from Citizen Action of New York about it:

“Last Wednesday at the Board of Education meeting, the five majority members of the Board of Education rammed through a resolution to ask Commissioner King to open up a 3rd round of applications to turn Bennett High School, Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Institute, East High School and Lafayette High School or any other location in Buffalo into charter schools. There was NO community input on this, and we were shut out. The next day, the state, led by Commissioner King, approved this request.

These are the facts:

• Our school board members and our community have been cut out of the process.
• We need solutions that are carefully considered with extensive input from our community, not ones that are rushed through in 30 minutes at a school board meeting with no community notice or input.
• To meet the needs of our children, we need quality public schools that are publicly run and accountable to our community not money-making privately run charter schools that are forced on our community.

So today at 11AM Lafayette High School, we are gathering to demand a voice in the Buffalo City School District’s decision about the fate of the Buffalo Public Schools. We will demand a cease and desist on the current turnover plan by the Board of Education until the community is heard and has the opportunity to play a major role in the solution.

We will be joined by Board of Education At-Large Member Barbara Seals Nevergold and Board of Education Ferry District Member Sharon Belton-Cottman. PUSH Buffalo will be standing strong with the community as we say NO. You will NOT make decisions about our students without the COMMUNITY'S input.”

Is the system we have broken? The answer is most definitely yes. Are there solutions? Absolutely! Are charter schools the only solution? Probably not, but, the only solutions that will be offered to the public are those offered by the few who have access to the room if the process keeps going the way it’s going.

P.S. - There's a petition for considerations against closing Lafayette H.S. based on the fact that something like 70% or more of that school's students are immigrants who have English as their second language. You can read more and sign here.