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Proposed new Legends Charter School gets cool reception

Mike Desmond
Officials proposing the new Legends Charter School made their case before the Buffalo School Board.

While the Buffalo School Board does not decide if a new charter school starts in the city, there was visible pushback when Legends Charter appeared before the board for its mandated public hearing. The founders of the school are all graduates of Buffalo schools, but live in Washington, DC, where they are trying to start another Legends. The premise is to build education around Wall Street and to learn by actely investing real dollars, eventually having a pot of cash at graduation that can be used for college.

With another suburban charter school in the works, opposition is beyond Buffalo. Erie County School Boards Association Executive Director Bruce Fraser was at the public hearing to oppose charters, citing inequities in who goes to charters and stays.

"Selected population out of the City of Buffalo and yet they barely outperform the City of Buffalo in these standardized measures," Fraser said. "As one example, ELL students rank for the City of Buffalo about 14 percent and only about 3.8 percent of the students attending charters are ELL identified."

The Legends founders say a key in what they project will be very good results is hiring and training, continuing to train the right teachers and paying them more than city schools to get the best.

Within five years, the school says it will have 600 students K-5th grade, although the school wants to start next year with only 166 K-1st grade students at a site to be determined later.

The school board has long complained about the loss of students and dollars to charters. Executive Affairs Vice President Sharon Belton-Cottman made that clear at the hearing.

"We cannot afford reduced class sizes,' she said. "We have reduced options for our children because of the large percentage, but, for me, I'm on record I approve choice for all parents. My problem is that when the charter schools do not play fair in the sandbox."

Public school supporters say charters keep only some kids and send the rest back and do not let auditors see what happens to public money.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.