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Racially divided school board reached compromise: 4 schools will phase out

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

The Buffalo School Board held one of the most contentious sessions in recent history Friday.  After nearly four hours of arguments and disruptions from the audience, board members reached a compromise on the city's four-out-of-time schools.

Schools Interim Superintendent Don Ogilvie  said it will mean that the phase-out of Bennett, Lafayette, East and MLK School will move forward, but a controversial plan to allow some charter schools to move into those buildings was changed.

"At this point there are no specific plans for a charter to occupy a building for '15-16, although the possibility I suppose exists, but not in any of the four out of time buildings," said Ogilvie following the lengthy meeting.

The meeting was filled with racial divide.  

Minority board members argued repeatedly that board member Carl Paladino has a conflict of interest by his involvement with charter schools. Paladino stated that two law firms said he does not have a conflict. 

Most of the session displayed a deep racial divide with nasty comments from both sides.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Racially divided Buffalo School Board battled it out on four failing schools for four hours Friday.

But minority members praised Ogilvie for being independent from the board's majority in his resolution for the out-of-time schools. They said his resolution shows he is 'his own man.'

Members of the audience shouted "shame" at times. One person was escorted out by security for causing the disruption. 

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Security guard escorts a man who started a 'shame' chant.

"This is not a game.  We're not playing hockey anymore. The puck is not being passed. This is about children," said Sharon Belton Cottman. That comment was directed toward board member Larry Quinn, a former Buffalo Sabres partner. 

At one point, Belton Cottman declared that the district is in its own "Selma" referring to the racial tensions and divide. 

Ogilvie responded to the racial divide.

"It was heated and in some respects very troubling," said Ogilvie.

But surprisingly -- in the end -- the board worked on a compromise and unanimously passed the out of school plan.  

The district is now in compliance with the State Education Department's request to deal with the four failing schools. Therefore, the phase-in plans do not need to be forwarded to Albany.

The four buildings will continue to phase-out.  At Bennett, a Middle Early College program will be established.  The district will also continue plans to develop Lafayette and expect to create a 'newcomers academy."  At Martin Luther King Multi-Cultural School it will initially be the primary location for an annex location for the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts.  And at East High School the approved plan calls to create a better alternative education .  Those phase-in-plans, created by some at the schools and the community, will be part of the future design of the buildings.

"But they will not go forward to Albany for review," stated Ogilvie.  

For students at the out-of-time schools, they will continue, but no more 9th graders will be enrolled. 

"Our best intent is to create a new school in that structure," said Ogilvie.  

WBFO News asked Ogilvie if the final decision was a victory for the community and students.

"I hope it is," said Ogilvie.  "The community should feel that a thoughtful, attentive approach was used and that we are not done, but established a certain level of harmony to go forward."