Focus on Education
9:52 am
Tue March 18, 2014

Plans to relocate King Center Charter School outrages Council member

Controversy is now brewing around the King Center Charter School's plans to move from its current site. A Buffalo lawmaker is outraged for being left out of the school's plans.  As part of our Focus on Education reporting WBFO'S Eileen Buckley says the charter school is seeking to purchase former School 71.

King Center Charter School on Genesee Street in Buffalo.
King Center Charter School on Genesee Street in Buffalo.
Credit WBFO News file photo

"No only is it economically feasible for us to add more faculty -- it provides a gym and auditorium for our students," Cathy Wettlaufer, president of the King Charter Board. 

The school is ready to expand.  It currently leases space at the King Urban Life Center on Genesee Street for $167,000 each year, a building owned by the city.   But the charter school wants to move into former School 71-on Lang Avenue. Wettlaufer tells WBFO News it makes economic sense. "We had an appraiser,on a approved list from the city -- appraised the building at $330,000. Simultaneously we received from the Charter School Institute for $200,000," said Wettlaufer.

Fillmore District Common Council member David Franczyk voicing his anger.

"What they're doing is very, very sneaky," said Francyzk in a WBFO News interview.  Francyzk says he believes the school is "pulling out the rug" abandoning the neighborhood at its current Genesee Street location in his district.

"That neighbored is a struggling east side neighbor. This is s an anchor in that neighborhood.  No one has reached out and spoken to me at all,"said Francyzk.

The King Center is in the former St. Mary of Sorrows Church -- once saved from demolition. The former church building was initially established as the King Urban Life Center in 1998 and by 2000 was transformed into the charter.

Franczyk says if the school leaves it would crush the neighborhood.  But Wettlaufer says reuse of the building is not the school's responsibility.

"But it is really determined by KULC," noted Wettlaufer.  Wett-laufer suggest the Genesee Street site could be used a new Pre-kindergartner or senior citizens center.  The school -- which serves the inner-city -- has a waiting list of 100-students.

The current lease expires this June and they would like to move into school 71 by the fall. But now approval of purchasing the new building is in the hands of the common council. But Franczyk is vowing to block it. However, Wettlaufer reminds the public it's about the children who want to expand into new space with a home basketball court. 

Lovejoy District Common Council member Richard Fontana is sponsoring a public meeting for purchase of the building Wednesday, March 19th at 6:30 p.m. at the Schiller Park Senior Center. 

Monday the Board president and school executive director issued a joint letter to the Common Council  asking lawmakers to approve the purchase of the city-owned School 71-building:

March 17, 2014 

Dear Common Council Members,

We are writing to you about our efforts to enhance the education of our students. As you know, the King Center Charter School board of trustees voted to authorize buying the city-owned former School 71 near Schiller Park as our new building. If you approve the sale, we can add an eighth grade this August and include all grades, K-8, under one roof.

In addition, the new building has a gym, a beautiful auditorium and space to expand from the current K-7’s 312 students to 432 students in grades K-8. We agreed to pursue acquisition of the building at 104 Lang Ave., just two miles away, for a city-appraised price of $330,000. The transaction will be aided by a $200,000 grant from SUNY’s Charter School Institute, which can only be used to purchase a building. If we are unable to buy School 71, we lose the grant.

When we told our families, here is how some of the students reacted:

"Can we bring our teachers too?"

"Yeah, we need a basketball court for our teams!"

"Will we finally have lockers?"

"Can we bring the lunch ladies?"

Don’t you love how children think? If the Council sees fit to approve this purchase, King Charter will own a building that’s five times larger than the current rented church building. We plan to invest $1 million for improvements and add a kitchen, a cafeteria, and, partnering with the Hasek’s Heroes, a synthetic hockey rink.

As you know, King Charter was the city’s first charter school, founded in 2000. We’ve had a long and fruitful relationship with the legally separate King Urban Life Center. But we currently must pay $167,000 a year to KULC, just to rent the building. This only provides 10,000 square feet of space, with four open-air classrooms, no gym or auditorium and requires splitting school facilities between two buildings.

In approving the purchase of School 71, the board determined:

·         KULC’s  $7 million plan to make a building at 30 Rich St. more conducive for the school would raise the rent to $500,000 a year, requiring faculty layoffs;

·         Such an addition would not be ready for school to open in August;

·         It would require putting some children in trailers. We will not do that;

·         Currently, we cannot “lock down” the church building in an emergency;

·         Open-air classrooms are not conducive to teaching and learning the rigorous Common Core standards;

·         And, since our lease with KULC expires on June 30, 2014, we are moving the school one way or the other.

In addition, we are willing to share our expertise with the King Urban Life Center if its board wants to re-purpose the building with a pre-kindergarten.

We are pleased to seek your agreement on buying 71, so you can put that building back to use as a community school, and give our growing school the facility our students need to continue their remarkable success. Families come to our school from all over the city, with a large number of them living near Schiller Park, and we’re arranging a new bus schedule.

This is the bottom line: Our board, which includes two parent representatives, determined that continuing to pay $167,000 a year in rent makes little sense when the opportunity for outright ownership is available. Also, our state regulators encouraged us to own our own building – because that’s in the students’ best interest – and owning 71 will permit us to have additional funds for our education mission.

We respectfully urge you to please support our students by voting to approve this sale. If you have any questions, please email me at cwettlaufer@hblaw.com or email Keith Frome at kfrome@kccs.org or call him at 891-7912.

Sincerely,

Catherine T. Wettlaufer                                          Keith Frome

President, King Charter Board                              Executive Director