Community speaks out against proposed charter school plan

Cheektowaga Central teacher and President of the Cheektowaga Central Teachers Association, Jeffrey Kuemmel, speaks at a public hearing on August 7th in opposition to a proposed charter school in their district.  (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Cheektowaga Central teacher and President of the Cheektowaga Central Teachers Association, Jeffrey Kuemmel, speaks at a public hearing on August 7th in opposition to a proposed charter school in their district.  (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

CHEEKTOWAGA – A public hearing at Cheektowaga Central drew a standing room only crowd Tuesday night as community stakeholders gathered to discuss a proposed charter school which seeks the state’s approval to open inside the boundaries of the school district.

The State University of New York’s Charter Schools Institue will soon determine if Charter School of the Arts should be allowed the opportunity to educate students.  

Shirley Wagstaff, the charter school’s petitioner, was the only person to speak in favor of the new school out of the seven community members who spoke at the hearing.

Charter School of the Arts petitioner Shirley Wagstaff (r) speaks to inquisitive community members after a public hearing on August 7th. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Charter School of the Arts
petitioner Shirley Wagstaff (r) speaks to inquisitive community members after a public hearing on August 7th. (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

“Anytime you’re trying to do something new and different and misunderstood, you’re always going to get pushback,” Ms. Wagstaff said after the hearing.  “I would really ask that they have an open mind.”

The message from the speakers who spoke out against the new school was simple.  The charter school would be bad for the school district’s bottom line.  Jeffrey Kuemmel, a Cheektowaga Central teacher, and President of the Cheektowaga Central Teachers Association said charter schools are an “astronomical” cost to school districts.

“It wouldn’t matter what type of charter school it is, and it’s not about unions because there are charter schools that are unionized, so that’s not the issue.  The issue is it’s going to decimate our programs here at Cheektowaga Central,” Mr. Kuemmel says.  “If you take ten kids away from Cheektowaga and place them in charter schools that would be approximately $120,000; that’s three teachers that we have to lose in terms of our staff.”

He says the school district already offers most of the programs the new charter school proposes to offer.

A public hearing at Cheektowaga Central drew a standing room only crowd August 7thas community stakeholders gathered to discuss a proposed charter school in the district.  (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
A public hearing at Cheektowaga Central drew a standing room only crowd August 7thas community stakeholders gathered to discuss a proposed charter school in the district.  (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

“We offer art, we offer music lessons, we don’t offer dance, but I can’t understand why we would open a whole school just to offer dance,” added Mr. Kuemmel.

“That’s required by state law, so of course, they offer that,” Ms. Wagstaff says. “But they do not offer it to the extent that our school is going to be offering it.  It will be an artistic equivalent to a technology course at BOCES.  Students go to BOCES because they can get into a particular focus – more in-depth than their regular school.”

Every student will take art and music classes as part of their everyday curriculum, and the school will contract out to other arts organizations to teach additional dance, music, and theatre classes after school.

Cheektowaga Central music teacher Shawn Rydzik was critical of the charter school’s proposed plan to contract out the school’s after-school arts offerings.

“Our arts do not interfere with academics, they are academics,” Mr. Rydzik said. “Contracting the responsibility of the art disciplines at Charter School of the Arts to local art agencies rather than hiring certified teachers is like opening up a new gourmet restaurant and serving McDonald’s.”

Members of the Cheektowaga Central Teachers Association mobilized at an August 7th public hearing to show their opposition to a proposed charter school in their district.  (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)
Members of the Cheektowaga Central Teachers Association mobilized at an August 7th public hearing to show their opposition to a proposed charter school in their district.  (Jim Herr/Cheektowaga Chronicle)

Kris Bolt is an undecided parent who attended the public hearing.  She did not speak publicly during the meeting but spoke with Cheektowaga Chronicle afterward.

“I was very disappointed that there was very little information about the charter school, it really just seemed to be all about finances but not understanding what benefits would be for the children,” said Ms. Bolt. “The reason I’m undecided is that I think the Union East K-5 program is very strong, my concerns in this district is at the high school level.  I was hoping to see a charter school option at the high school level and that’s really not being proposed.”

SUNY’s Charter Schools Institue will now review the charter school’s application and public hearing comments.  Ms. Wagstaff said a determination should be made sometime in September.

“I believe I submitted a strong application, but if for whatever reason it’s not approved in this round I will take the corrections that the SUNY Charter Schools Institute recommends to me to make and I will resubmit in January.  I’m not going away,” said Ms. Wagstaff.

For more information about the proposed charter school, please visit their website at https://charterschoolofthearts.com/ or download the informational handout that was distributed after the public hearing.

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