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The charter school space debate is close to erupting in Rochester.

University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men opened in the former Nazareth Hall on Raines Park in 2010. Principal Joe Munno knew he’d quickly outgrow the location, but there were few options.

“There’s plenty of buildings that our big developers own and I met with all of them,” Munno said. “They do have an interest, but it’s about are they willing to spend money and put up some funds to renovate buildings? They’re not.”

Munno wants to build an addition, but the Maplewood Neigborhood Association successfully swayed the City Planning Commission to say no. A letter to the board cited rowdy youth, density, litter and traffic. There was also this stereotypical description of urban black boys:

Neighbors now have to deal with large groups of young men walking slowly up and down the middle of the street, defying cars that travel in the right of way.

NIMBY-ism aside, University Prep’s situation is not uncommon. The Rochester Academy Charter School is in the same boat, as it would like to unite its two cross-town campuses.

Even as Catholic schools are closing and the City School District is losing population, charter schools are struggling to find room. Closed Catholic schools are often not large enough for high schools. The RCSD hasn’t offered any of its space (to our knowledge) and it’s not clear if charter schools would be willing to share buildings. Munno said he wants his kids removed from the RCSD environment.

We’ve already seen some odd charter school conversions. The former Mapledale Party House was retrofitted for a now-closed charter school. An old factory on St. Paul was renovated for another failed charter school and ironically now houses RCSD offices. Greece Ridge Mall offered University Prep space, but the school’s charter mandates staying in the city.

So that leaves a city with a lot of empty buildings, a district that needs to consolidate space, and a bunch of charter schools spending millions of tax dollars on leases and construction.

Does any of this make sense?

7 Responses to Charter Space Debate

  1. Funny, we don’t seem to have much problem finding space for charters here in Buffalo. Yeah, we’ve had a lot more vacancies here due to a higher percentage population loss and industry loss. But I wonder if some of it is because Buffalo hasn’t been as demolition-happy as Rochester. An expanding Buffalo charter recently moved into a renovated former Catholic orphanage that had been abandoned for about 3 decades.

    Many of our developers in Buffalo are also strongly pro-charter, and have bent over backwards to accommodate charter schools. Partly, that’s because charters represent a steady source of income that can be capitalized to rehab a building & provide ongoing cash flow in rents. But also, urban-focused developers here whom I’ve talked with also believe that the choice represented by charter schools is key to keeping families in the city and even bringing them back from the suburbs.

    Of course, if you’re a charter, it doesn’t hurt to have an intractable school district like Buffalo’s — especially under a half-dozen years of an intransigent superintendent — to develop a pro-charter outlook in the community.

  2. May 8, 2012 at 8:44 am Mike responds:

    “But I wonder if some of it is because Buffalo hasn’t been as demolition-happy as Rochester.”

    Probably not. Especially given the next story posted – http://therochesterian.com/2012/05/08/demolition-debate/ . 😉

    • MIKE: OMG: Buffalo has been tearing down inner city structures at an arazing rate ever since the early 1990’s. try some good google aerial views especially when the leaves are off the trees of the Filmore strip on the city’s east side.

  3. May 8, 2012 at 1:10 pm Daniel responds:

    I’m not sure how it’s a “debate” if the first shot out is “the neighborhood is racist”, and the neighborhood association or neighborhood residents themselves aren’t contacted. It’s more like an accusation taking the guise of reporting.

    I definitely empathize with Joe Munno and the task at hand. Our city schools are having a terrible time of it, and new and novel approaches are required. That said, the fact stands: “Principal Joe Munno knew he’d quickly outgrow the location…”, which would require extensive rework, including the construction of new buildings, to shoehorn as many kids as asked for.

    It’s a residential neighborhood, with traffic congestion problems already, kids running across Lake Avenue to get to school (not the safest of settings), fights, litter, etc., and the typical reaction from the school administration on any of these problems swings between “we’ll deal with it” and something entirely non-committal, like “boys will be boys.” Regardless of the answer, nothing got done to address problems. So on that end, not a whole lot has been done by administration to make the community believe they can actually handle doubling the student body.

    My suggestion for a more nuanced “debate”: contact the other side of the debate.

    • May 8, 2012 at 4:05 pm Rachel responds:

      I had the documentation from the neighborhood group and knocked on many doors. I did talk to a neighbor who was concerned – it was in my report for 13WHAM.

      I don’t think I’m taking a side here. I’m pointing out what happens when we’re expanding schools and school sites while two other school systems are shrinking. There’s some tension.

  4. May 9, 2012 at 10:09 am Peking Humonculous responds:

    The fact of the matter is young black men do have a tendency to stroll slowly down city streets and block traffic. Go ahead and call me a racist for noticing this- I don’t treally care (I’ve been told so many times that I’m racist simply because I’m white it really no longer affects me.) I actually found an alternate route to and from work to avoid this. I won’t venture any guesses as far as “why” they do it but I can totally understand why it would bother someone who is simply trying to drive somewhere. It doesn’t make them racist simply because they’d like people in their neighborhoods to obey traffic laws like they do or show common courtesy. Regardless of the fact that the left wing media likes to paint that picture because it suits their agenda.

    • Perking,

      I am a black man and agree with what you are saying for the most part. I know the context we are talking in is an urban setting, in which I live, but I just want to put it out there that all “young black men” don’t behave in this manner but most young black men, in the city, do this and it is frustrating.

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