-by Liz Evans, Chair, Board of Trustees Elmwood Village Charter School
I’d like a chance to respond to the one-sided piece of “news” that was published in Buffalo Rising early this morning. That Sam Savarino would attempt to paint Elmwood Village Charter School in a negative light, while purportedly having an interest in our success as our landlord, is unconscionable. EVCS has acted with nothing but prudence, honesty and transparency in this case and I’m very disappointed that Sam’s attempt to acquire this property seems to have twisted his judgment. EVCS wants to purchase the School 36 building, at the appraised price, and become a stable and long-term part of the community. Sam Savarino wants to purchase the building so he can lease it out to a newly-approved charter school, becoming a landlord/developer yet again.
Elmwood Village Charter School has been open since September 2006 and currently serves 175 students in grades K-6. After a long and careful process EVCS determined that it needed to expand, both through 8th grade and horizontally by adding another class at each grade level. EVCS’s families are anxious for the School to expand through 8th grade so that they can continue their child’s education there. EVCS currently has students on the waiting lists that outnumber the number of students enrolled in the School.
EVCS’s test scores after only three years put us among the top public schools in Buffalo. The school emphasizes social responsibility, arts integration, multi-culturalism, and community alliances. EVCS operates with the belief that the social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum, and children must meet with social success before they can achieve high levels of academic success. The students at Elmwood Village are experiencing this success in an intimate, peaceful, and diverse school community that appreciates different learning styles. The school is a diverse community, reflecting the Allentown neighborhood that it serves. Approximately 30% of the students identify themselves as black, 12% multi-racial, 15% Hispanic, and 43% white. 49% of our students come from homes that are identified as economically disadvantaged, and 17% our students have special needs that require accommodations or special education services.
Compared to the same grade levels in 2009, EVCS exceeded the Buffalo School District’s performance by 27% in English Language Arts and 28% in Mathematics. Furthermore, compared to the same grade levels in 2009, EVCS surpassed New York State performance by 4% in English Language Arts and 5% in Mathematics.
EVCS was approached a year-and-a-half ago by some of their parents and other members of the neighborhood about the closing of School 36 on Days Park. Neighbors expressed their excitement that the School might be able to acquire the building from the Buffalo School District or the City of Buffalo for a split campus. Since EVCS is currently in the 4th year of a 20-year lease with Mr. Savarino for its Elmwood Avenue Building, they needed to find a second site within reasonable distance if they wanted to expand. EVCS entered into talks with the City and former Common Councilmember Brian Davis to have the building decommissioned by the District and to begin negotiations with the City Real Estate Department. Councilmember Davis introduced a resolution to the Common Council that the City would lease the building to Tapestry for one year and then sell the building for the appraised price to Elmwood Village Charter School. EVCS and Tapestry were the only two parties that went to the Councilmember to express a desire to occupy the building. Neighbors expressed support and so that’s why the resolution was proposed and passed.
EVCS had the building appraised by two different appraisers and had a review of both appraisals done by a third appraiser. The price of the building at $15/square foot puts it at more than three times the next most expensive school building on the real estate rolls, which is $4.25/square foot. The average price is $2.75/square foot. Besides the appraisals, they have also conducted a Phase I and Phase II environmental analysis and have had an engineer and architect tour the building and give their assessment of necessary improvements to the building.
Despite claims of being blindsided, EVCS representatives met with Savarino on two occasions during this period to try to ask for cooperation, rather than competition. EVCS reps even met with real estate agents to find other suitable locations for West Buffalo in order to find a win-win situation. Charter Schools have enough outside forces working against them for them to be pitted against each other, as Savarino has now done. In fact, the current tenant of School 36, Tapestry High School came to be in that site because they piggy backed onto EVCS’s request to have the building decommissioned after reading about it in the local press. Even though EVCS was interested in purchasing it then, they backed off to allow Tapestry to have a temporary site.
EVCS has always operated in the light of day – holding community meetings, working with the neighbors, the State Education Department, the Common Council, and the City Real Estate Department. The neighborhood associations are favor EVCS’s acquisition of the building because they are an established and successful school. If Savarino owns the building for the WBCS (slated to open this August), and that school is not successful, then he is free to do whatever he wants with that site, including condos or low-income housing with Federal money. By the way, the West Buffalo Charter School has the entire city in which to locate their school.
I don’t think that the whole story has been shared by Mr. Savarino about his offer, i.e. that its terms changed before and after the approval of the charter of the West Buffalo Charter School in February 2010, well after a contract had been under negotiation between EVCS and the City.
The Common Council voted to approve the contract of sale unanimously on March 16th, despite the fact that they were aware of Savarino’s competing bid. By filing an Article 78, as well as a lawsuit against EVCS for “anticipatory breach of lease” Savarino has forced EVCS to spend time and money fighting to acquire the only suitable building that is near enough their current building. EVCS is also at risk of losing a facilities grant from the State Education Department specifically granted for the purchase of the building if the deal isn’t completed soon. Savarino has been undermining EVCS’s bid to expand by maligning them to their authorizer, the State Education Department, and at public forums like the Board of Education public hearing.
This building is a just perfect for EVCS – not because it is a work of art or in excellent shape – it is not. But it is in a wonderful, vibrant neighborhood overlooking Days Park in Allentown, which is EVCS’s home. For EVCS, it’s literally the only option for expansion, both financially and geographically.