School & District Management

Tensions High in Buffalo Over Charter Schools

By Catherine Gewertz — April 07, 2004 | Corrected: February 23, 2019 4 min read

Corrected: The Buffalo Teachers Federation is an affiliate member of the National Education Association.

Five elementary students from a charter school arrived at a Buffalo, N.Y., public school competition ready to play “Ode to Joy” on their violins. But they were barred from the contest, triggering an outpouring of angry accusations and casting the children as victims of an increasingly hostile struggle over the city’s growing charter school movement.

The district music director’s decision, made last month as the children waited to perform, has rippled into administration offices, down school hallways, and onto local talk radio. Charter school advocates accuse district leaders of discriminating against them and their students; district officials contend the incident has been misconstrued.

Marion Canedo, the superintendent of the 43,000-student district, has apologized to the children and invited them to perform at a school board meeting this month. The students received other invitations from a local symphony and broadcast news media. But last week, nerves were still raw.

“Oh, God, can’t we talk about something else?” school board member Denise Hanlon said when asked about the controversy. “It’s just been a mess.”

Claity Massey, the director of King Center Charter School, which enrolls the five violinists, said she believes the March 23 incident touched a nerve because it drew children into an adult dispute.

“Most people have a generous spirit, and they saw it as discriminatory and unfair—like who would pick on young children that way?” she said.

Backdrop of Tension

The concert came amid tension over the Buffalo board of education’s unanimous December decision to encourage development of a network of charter schools within its boundaries. Nine charter schools, which are publicly financed but independent of most district rules, already operate in Buffalo. (“Buffalo Board Votes to Court Charter Schools,” Jan. 7, 2004.)

The unions representing Buffalo teachers and administrators are strongly opposed to charter schools, noting among other arguments that they divert money from the district budget. All nine school board members face re-election on May 4, and the unions are working to post candidates to oppose them.

At the contest last month, the five 2nd and 3rd graders from King Center Charter School had planned to perform with students from a regular Buffalo public school, whose music teacher taught them violin at King after school.

But when Mark Garcia, the district’s music supervisor, realized that the five attended a charter school, he told the teacher and the two parent escorts from King that the children could not play.

“I asked him why our children couldn’t perform. He said because our students attend a charter school, and that the performance was strictly for Buffalo public school students,” said Maureen Bell- Baskerville, whose 8-year-old daughter was one of the violinists.

Mr. Garcia told her that when the music teacher called his office to request permission to bring the children, he “should have mentioned” that they were charter school students, Ms. Bell-Baskerville said.

Mr. Garcia said the fact that the children attend a charter school had less to do with his decision than the fact that they were not properly signed up to play. He feels bad that children paid the price because adults didn’t follow proper procedure, he said.

Andrew Maddigan, a spokesman for the Buffalo district, said district leaders wish Mr. Garcia had let the students play and had resolved other issues later.

But Mr. Garcia was suddenly faced with deciding whether districtwide events were open to charter school students, was aware of the “precedent-setting implications” of the decision, and “had nothing to go on, no district policy,” Mr. Maddigan said.

“All this is uncharted territory,” said Mr. Maddigan. He pointed out that the district is undergoing great change, with the charter network and the board’s recent decision to adopt an open-enrollment policy starting in the fall.

“We had to come to this point, but it’s unfortunate it was thrust upon everybody in such an awkward way,” the spokesman said.

Boycotting Fund-Raiser

Some believe that the concert incident took on an extra charge because it followed a union-driven push for a boycott of an annual districtwide fund-raiser called Carnival in the Park.

Twenty-two of the 35 regular public schools that had planned to participate in the June 5 event dropped out after the unions urged members not to take part alongside charter schools, said Michelle Stevens, the event’s chief organizer.

“One principal whose school had participated for several years called me and said, ‘I’ve just had a call from my union saying I really don’t want to be a school that participates in Carnival, and I just can’t do it,’” Ms. Stevens said.

Philip B. Rumore, the president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, a 3,800-member affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said it was his own members who urged him to “withdraw our support and advise teachers that we’ve withdrawn our support.”

Unless charter schools are financed in a way that doesn’t take money from the district, his union cannot support them, he said.

Many Buffalo charter school advocates lament the unions’ anti-charter campaign, saying such schools broaden parents’ choices and enhance the school district’s mission: serving students.

“There is a lot of narrow-mindedness going on,” said Joy Pepper, the director of Tapestry Charter School. “The ultimate goal is what is in the best interests of children. That seems to be overlooked.”

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Districts Are Centering Relationships and Systemic SEL for Back to School 21-22
As educators and leaders consider how SEL fits into their reopening and back-to-school plans, it must go beyond an SEL curriculum. SEL is part of who we are as educators and students, as well as
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
The Fall K-3 Classroom: What the data imply about composition, challenges and opportunities
The data tracking learning loss among the nation’s schoolchildren confirms that things are bad and getting worse. The data also tells another story — one with serious implications for the hoped for learning recovery initiatives
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
Student Well-Being Online Summit Student Mental Health
Attend this summit to learn what the data tells us about student mental health, what schools can do, and best practices to support students.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Female Principals Are Paid Less Than Men. That’s a Big Concern
A gender pay gap in the principalship can affect recruitment and turnover.
5 min read
A conceptual image of gender pay gap.
hyejin kang/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Is the Assistant Principal the Most Overlooked, Undervalued Person at School?
A new research review on assistant principals finds that the role is undefined and that support for these school leaders is inconsistent.
7 min read
 teachers and leaders looking around for direction
Mykyta Dolmatov/iStock/Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Opinion Pandemic Recovery Will Be Complex. We’ll Need the Best School Leaders
To face the education challenges of today and tomorrow, we must invest in the principal pipeline, writes Michael J. Petrilli.
Michael J. Petrilli
4 min read
Leader pointing hand forward, directing boat forward through corona virus crisis
iStock / Getty Images Plus
School & District Management Opinion The Year of Scourges: How I Survived Illness and Racism to Find My 'Tribe'
A Black school leader reflects on the hardest year of her professional life.
Reba Y. Hodge
4 min read
new growth on a bare tree
Vanessa Solis/Education Week & Getty Images