Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Communities

April 1, 2014

Falls Council objects to charter school proposal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — NIAGARA FALLS — City lawmakers were unified Monday in their opposition to a plan for the establishment of a new charter school.

After hearing from a pair of Niagara Falls School District officials who described the charter proposal as potentially "devastating" to the district's bottom line, all five city council members voted to support a resolution calling on the New York State Board of Regents to reject an application that has been filed by a group of individuals looking to open the Academy of Learning and Leadership Charter School within city limits. 

Council members — including Kristen Grandinetti and Andrew Touma, who are both school district employees — argued that the proposed charter would divert education funds from city schools which would likely result in layoffs of teachers, administrators and support staff in an already cash-strapped district. 

The resolution suggested the proposed charter school would draw between $3 million and $4 million annually from the city school district and another $4 million to $5 million from city schools. It would also, according to the council resolution, result in "public school closings, job losses, an exodus of Niagara Falls residents, an increase in school taxes and/or a decline in property values." 

"The reality is this would hurt the quality of life of our children and the (school district) staff members in our community," Touma said before casting his vote. 

Council Chairman Charles Walker said in examining the economics of the issue, it struck him that while the city school district has a residency policy in place for teachers and other employees, a charter school would not have similar requirements.

"Economics plays a big part of it," he said. 

Mark Laurrie, deputy superintendent for the Falls School District, said an existing charter school — Niagara Charter in neighboring Wheatfield — already draws 340 students and roughly $3.9 million in funding from the city school district. He predicted another local charter school would be "devastating to the financial condition of the district and the city," as it would likely result in the loss of as many 80 district positions. 

"These jobs that would be lost would be lost by residents of the city," Laurrie said. 

Laurrie also suggested much of the programming that charter school supporters say they intend to offer are "duplicative" in nature and in no way more innovative than what the city school district offers to students today.

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