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King Urban Center says charter school relocation plan is 'act of disinvestment'

WBFO News file photo

The King Urban Life Center (KULC) says it is "strongly opposed" to the relocation of the King Center Charter School.

The King Urban Life Center board of directors issued a news release Tuesday. The Board says it views the school’s plans to move to former School 71 as an “act of disinvestment, betraying the King Center’s and original Board of the school’s dream of revitalizing the neighborhood.”

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. 

Cathy Wettlaufer, president of the King Charter Board, told WBFO News it makes economic sense. "We had an appraiser, on a approved list from the city, appraise the building at $330,000. Simultaneously, we received from the Charter School Institute for $200,000," said Wettlaufer.

But the King board disagrees. WBFO News spoke with Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, a member of the board of directors. Taylor is also a University at Buffalo professor and serves as director of UB's Center for Urban Studies.

“We will expand the school so you can accommodate additional students.  But the reality is they simply do not like the neighborhood. They do not think the neighborhood is vibrant and strong" said Taylor.  "This, I believe, is their motivating force."

"This is isn’t about neighborhood, it’s about teaching and educating over 420 students in an environment where they can not only have classrooms , but a gym and auditorium and thus an educational experience where they will be well prepared to be college ready high school graduates," said Wettlaufer. "We have only 7 or 8 students who walk to our school."

The King Urban Life Center Board states, “Schools anchor neighborhoods, cultivate community identity and increase return on public investment. This was the vision that caused the KULC to found the King Center Charter School. This dream was informed by the belief that you cannot have strong schools without school neighborhoods and you cannot have strong neighborhoods without strong schools. This axiom is true even in cities like Buffalo where children live in one neighborhood and go to school in another. For this reason, the King Center built the charter school and the neighborhood in tandem.”

Tuesday morning, in a report heard on WBFO, Fillmore District Common Council member David Franczyk expressed outrage that the school plans to leave the Genesee Street building. Franczyk told WBFO "what they're doing is very, very sneaky."

At Tuesday's Common Council session Franczyk was fired up, saying the school would be abandoning his neighborhood.

"This was just thrown in our face. I get a call from the press. I didn't find out from any sources," said Francyzk.

But Lovejoy District Council member Richard Fontana defends the plan that would move the school about six minutes away from its current site, into his district where School 71 is located.

"Right now, all we have is news clippings and letters. We don't even have the item before us," said Fontana. "I liked to see the time come here for the negotiation of  School 71 and this council could negotiate that and debate it on the floor of the council and see if it works."

The school needs the Buffalo Common Council's approval to purchase the former School 71 building in the Schiller Park neighborhood.

But Dr. Taylor said he believes its vital to build the school and neighborhood at the same time and the school has a responsibility to invest in the redevelopment of the neighborhood.

"We have consistently said to them, we are willing to work with you, we are willing to finance the redevelopment of the school, we are willing to sit down with you," noted Taylor.  

School board president Wettlaufer said two members of the KULC board also serve on the charter school's board. Wettlaufer tells WBFO they "have been part of and aware of our three year expansion study and planning."

Council member Fontana will host town hall style meeting on the school relocation plan Wednesday night at 6:30 at the Schiller Park Senior Center, 2057 Genesee Street. Community members are encouraged to attend to learn about the school and its vision for the former school building on Lang Avenue.

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