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November 28, 2011
Proponents of Cobble Hill pre-K: We have "grassroots" support
Parents and elected officials speak out in favor of a plan to open an early childhood center instead of a charter school. A day before a public hearing about a space-sharing proposal that would bring the Success Charter Network to Brownstone Brooklyn, advocates of an alternative plan took to the street to promote their idea. The counter-proposal, made after the Department of Education announced it had chosen a Baltic Street school building for the charter school chain's newest outpost, would use the space instead for a preschool. Success Charter operator Eva Moskowitz suggested in the New York Post today that the counter-proposal came from the teachers union in an attempt to block her school from getting space in the building. That's "absolutely not true," said Jeffrey Tripp, the UFT chapter leader at the School for International Studies, one of the schools in the building, at a press conference today. He said the preschool proposal is supported by a "grassroots movement." "I'm proud to be a member of the UFT but this [alternate proposal] is not something the UFT was behind," he said. The plan — for which DOE officials say no application has yet been received — was first floated by a retired DOE official and a local politician in response to the DOE's plan to site Cobble Hill Success Academy in the building that International Studies shares with the School for Global Studies and a special education program. It's also being supported by the Alliance for Quality Education, an advocacy group. The dust-up has AQE, which typically advocates against school closures and co-locations on the grounds that they are unfair to poor and minority students, in the position of supporting a preschool program that would likely serve many affluent families.
October 31, 2011
Moskowitz, protesters clash over proposed Brooklyn charter
Success Charter Network CEO Eva Moskowitz cut short a pitch to Brownstone Brooklyn parents Saturday after dozens of protesters interrupted her presentation. Moskowitz was holding an informational meeting at a public library about her newest school, which the Department of Education has proposed siting in a Cobble Hill building that currently houses two secondary schools and a program for severely autistic students. But the roughly 15 parents who said they came to learn more about Cobble Hill Success Academy, which would open next fall, were easily outnumbered by opponents of Moskowitz's bid to open a school in the area. Last week, the opponents said they planned to stand outside the Carroll Gardens library during Moskowitz's noon information session, but freezing rain drove them inside, where they distributed brochures criticizing Cobble Hill Success and charter schools more generally. Shouting, "We have information for parents also! This district doesn't have failing schools, it has successful elementary schools!" they interrupted a presentation made by parents from the Upper West Side school that was Moskowitz's first foray into a neighborhood that, like Cobble Hill, includes many middle-class families and high-performing schools. As the back-and-forth between audience members and presenters grew more confrontational, Moskowitz admonished the crowd.
July 20, 2011
After early win, PS 9 parents lose bid to keep charter school out
A legal challenge that prompted city education officials to rewrite all of its co-location plans was denied today. Well before the co-location was approved in February, parents at Brooklyn's PS 9 had battled against the city's plan to move Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School into the building. In April, then-State Education Commissioner David Steiner halted the co-location plan, agreeing with the parents that the city Department of Education's space-sharing plan had many flaws. After the city revised the plan — along with all of the other co-location plans that had the same problems — parents appealed again. Today, state officials rejected that appeal, clearing the way for Brooklyn East Collegiate to take over classrooms and some shared space in the Prospect Heights building this fall. The decision comes as a blow not just to PS 9 parents but to others across the city who are trying to prevent co-location plans from moving forward. Steiner's April ruling on PS 9, which has come to be known as the Espinet decision, emboldened groups of people at other schools facing co-locations this fall to file their own appeals with the state. In recent weeks, State Commissioner of Education John King dismissed two other appeals, allowing site plans for Coney Island Preparatory Charter School and Explore Charter School to move forward. Today's decision did not come from King, but from his deputy, Valerie Grey.
July 8, 2011
City Council's UFT charter school support raises ire, eyebrows
People on both sides of the charter school fight are not happy about a hefty City Council earmark that's going to the teachers union's charter school. The funding, sponsored by City Councilman Erik Dilan and approved last month in the council's annual capital budget allocations, gives the union $2 million to develop a plan for moving its charter school out of the two East New York buildings it shares and into space of its own. The announcement comes as charter schools and their critics are locked in fierce debate over how the city funds and allocates space to charter schools. That dispute is central to a lawsuit, filed in May by the UFT and NAACP, that seeks to stop 16 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding. The lawsuit alleges that some charter schools receive disproportionate public resources, and some of its backers say the City Council earmark is another example. Teacher activist Norm Scott called the funding "a double outrage, maybe a triple outrage."
June 10, 2011
A charter school finds itself stuck between two controversies
Council member Steve Levin and State Assembly Member Joan Millman rally with staff, parents and children outside two closing day care centers. (Update: A spokesperson for the city Administration for Children Services tells GothamSchools that Strong Place and Bethel Day Care Centers will continue operating until Friday, June 17, in order to give parents more time to find alternative care options.) A charter school with an uncertain future has found private space for the next school year, hoping to appease the neighborhood opposition where it's currently co-located. But in the process, it collided with another citywide controversy: the mayor's decision to close day care centers. Brooklyn Prospect Charter School has co-located at Sunset Park High School since it opened two years ago, but that community wants them out. So last week, the school signed a one-year lease this week to move into 238 Hoyt Street in Boerum Hill. A permanent, privately-funded facility scheduled to open in 2012 is being built down the road. The challenge is that the previous tenants at the rental building were two popular day care centers that have been neighborhood institutions for over 30 years. Bethel Day Care and Strong Place Day Care are two of eight programs ending as a result of Mayor Bloomberg's budget cuts. Today, Bethel and Strong Place were among five centers to close their doors for good. Parents, employees and young children from the centers joined Council Member Steve Levin outside of the building to protest the cuts. "We're here to stand up against what the city has done. Stand up against what the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School has done," said Levin, who was joined by State Assembly Member Joan Millman and about 30 others. "These programs, we have fought for year after year, so that your children have a safe place to stay." The centers would have closed regardless, but Levin partially blamed Brooklyn Prospect's pursuit of the $750,000 lease for the inability to restore funding. "It's tough enough to get funding restored for the daycare centers, but when you have a charter school come in and sign a lease, it makes it all the more difficult," he said. The lease includes a termination clause that would allow the centers to stay if they could afford the rent. That looked increasingly unlikely, however, with Bloomberg holding firm to his budget cuts.
April 26, 2011
Success Academy asks court to dismiss UWS parents' lawsuit
Lawyers for a charter school network are asking the State Supreme Court to dimiss a co-location lawsuit filed by parents on the Upper West Side. The parents' lawsuit seeks to block Success Academy network from opening a charter school in the Brandeis Educational Campus, which is currently home to five public high schools. It accuses the city's Department of Education of using inaccurate enrollment numbers to make the case that the building has enough space for a sixth school. Responding to the lawsuit today, lawyers for the charter school said that the suit should be dismissed. City attorneys said they plan to file a similar response. "We will be filing the papers with the court shortly and we oppose the relief sought by the plaintiffs," said city attorney Thomas Crane. In their response to the parents' suit, Success Academy lawyers said that the parents' arguments "nitpick to an absurd degree" and "engage in unseemly fearmongering." They said that what's driving the Upper West Side parents' lawsuit is anger that despite massive opposition, the city's school board voted to give the charter school space in Brandeis.
April 25, 2011
The disadvantages that indie charter schools do and don't face
Do mom-and-pop charter schools get a raw deal when it comes to finding rent-free public space in New York City? For many charter schools, the fight for space in public schools is a bruising one. In a column in the Sunday Times, writer Michael Winerip suggests that it's that much worse for start-up charter schools that aren't tied to charter networks or wealthy backers. The latter type, he argues, are able to open dozens of charter schools in public space all over the city. Meanwhile, a mom-and-pop charter school in Queens has to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a privately-owned building when the city doesn't give it space. Is it a universal truth that the public school real estate hunt discriminates against start-ups? It's not clear. The charter school Winerip mentions, Growing Up Green Charter, is one of only nine charter schools in all of Queens. Almost all of them are independent charter schools started by teachers or religious groups and most of them are in private space. Home to some of the best traditional public schools in the city, Queens also has some of the most overcrowded schools, leaving little room for charter schools of any kind to squeeze in. Would the city's charter school office find space for an Astoria branch of the Success Academy if CEO Eva Moskowitz asked? We don't know yet. What is known is that almost all of the barriers to entry are higher for mom-and-pop schools than they are for charters that are part of networks.
April 14, 2011
In Fort Greene, a charter school surrenders in a space fight
A popular Brooklyn charter school is backing down from its expansion plans after facing fierce resistance from local officials. Allison Keil and Sara Stone, co-principals of Fort Greene's Community Roots Charter School, sent a letter to parents today announcing that they had decided to delay the school's plans to add a middle school starting in September. Expressing surprise at the intensity of opposition to Community Roots' expansion, they wrote, "The impact of the reactions of the press, politicians and the other schools in our shared campus make it impossible to proceed in good faith." Keil and Stone's response is unusual: Resistance sometimes seems only to redouble the city's determination to open or expand charter schools. In nearby Prospect Heights, for example, the city is pushing forward in its bid to move a charter school into the PS 9 building, even after PS 9 parents won a judgement from the state against the city's original plan. Families of fifth-graders at Community Roots will now have to search for middle school spots for their children, more than a month after the city's middle school application deadline. Community Roots, which attracts families from both Brownstone Brooklyn and local housing projects, received a five-year renewal of its charter in January. In early March, the Department of Education gave notice that it planned to expand the school inside PS 67, where it is currently housed, and scheduled a Panel for Educational Policy vote for the end of this month. But recent weeks witnessed a surge of opposition to the school's expansion.
August 13, 2010
Space-strapped charter school sent students to factory space
Security camera footage captures students walking into a building that is not certified for educational use but houses the offices for the Believe Charter School Network. Strapped for space, a Brooklyn charter school network sent its students to classes at a facility that was only approved for factory and office use — not educational purposes, according to security camera footage and interviews with people who witnessed students' use. The footage and accounts document students' regular trips to the space this summer and during the last school year. A student at the school told me that the space, a former factory at 33 Nassau Ave. in Williamsburg, is known to students as "the art building." View the full footage in a slideshow below. The charter operator, Believe High Schools Network, appears to have begun to send students to the office space after its plan to open two new schools in a private facility hit a snag in 2009. Forced to improvise, the network arranged to house both of the two new schools in the same district school building used by its original school, Williamsburg Charter High School, a former employee said. That was despite the fact that the second floor office space at 33 Nassau Ave. is certified by the city Department of Buildings only for use as a factory, shipping, storage, or office space. State education law requires that charter schools use buildings approved for educational use. For that reason, Believe officials originally used the 33 Nassau space only for offices, said Joshua Morales, a former consultant to Believe. In the last month, both the city and state departments of education have launched investigations into Believe's use of the 33 Nassau space. The city department oversees Williamsburg Charter High School, and the state department oversees the two new schools, Northside and Southside charter high schools. Officials at Believe did not return several phone call and e-mail requests for comment today. The arrangement highlights the risks of the city's current charter school space situation.
July 22, 2010
De Blasio: City fails to engage parents on school siting issues
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, speaking today on the steps of the Department of Education When two courts halted the city's plans to close 19 public schools this year, judges ruled that the city didn't follow state law that requires it to engage parents and report the impact that the changes will have on students' educations. Now Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is arguing that the city is making the same mistakes when it decides to place multiple schools in the same buildings. In a report released today, de Blasio charges that the city did not give parents enough information about how changes to space usage would affect instructional programs or about public hearings on the changes. "They're just doing the minimum amount of parent outreach so they can say they did," de Blasio said today. De Blasio's office and the Alliance for Quality Education surveyed nearly 875 parents at 34 schools, about half of those that the city proposed moving into new, shared space last year. (Roughly half of public schools citywide currently share building space with other schools.)
July 14, 2010
City and union agree to fewer school colocations in September
Afraid of another lawsuit from the teachers union, city officials have decided to force fewer new schools to share space this year. Originally, the Department of Education planned to begin closing 19 schools next September and open 16 schools — most of them brand new — in their buildings. But that plan was put on hold when the union successfully sued to stop the closures. With the court silent on whether new schools could still open, the city announced that it would proceed to open them. United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said he was concerned that opening new schools while keeping the original schools in business would mean severe overcrowding in some buildings. Now the two sides have reached an agreement that will change some of the planned colocations and, as part of the deal, the UFT has waived its right to sue over the colocations. Under the agreement, five new schools that would have co-located with closing schools will open elsewhere, including one in the union's office. The deal also gives the saved schools more support and possibly more staff, but not more money.
June 1, 2009
After rejecting one potential home, Hebrew school seeks another
After announcing at the eleventh hour that it was giving up on moving into a Marine Park public school building, a new charter school is struggling to come up with a plan B. The school says it is still pursuing the possibility of moving into public space before its Aug. 24 opening date, but the city is suggesting that the possibility is a remote one. The Hebrew Language Academy charter school on Friday withdrew its bid for space at a middle school in Brooklyn's Marine Park neighborhood, days after a protest against the school drew hundreds of angry community members. "After the CEC public hearing on Tuesday, no matter how much we believe that we would be good neighbors, it was obvious that we could not accomplish our goals at I.S. 278 in Marine Park," the school's founder, Sara Berman, said in a statement this weekend. A spokesman for the school, Dan Gerstein, told me today that HLA is "regrouping and moving as quickly and aggressively at finding an alternate site," and that it is continuing to seek space in an existing public school. He said the school is also considering private space and is working closely with the department to find a suitable home for the school. A DOE spokeswoman, Melody Meyer, says the school is not currently being considered for public space.
April 6, 2009
City Council moves to regulate city's placement of charter schools
The former chair of the City Council education committee, Eva Moskowitz, talked to the current chair, Robert Jackson, before today's hearing on charter schools. Moskowitz runs a charter school network, while Jackson said he is skeptical of charter schools. (<em>GothamSchools</em>, Flickr) City Council members today moved to regulate the process of placing charter schools in public school buildings, introducing a resolution that they said would avoid conflicts between families at neighborhood schools and new charter schools placed inside of them. Right now, Department of Education officials offer some charter schools space in public school buildings on their own, but the space-sharing arrangements are sometimes contentious. (Charter schools receive public funding, but operate outside of the DOE watch and are not guaranteed space in public school buildings.) The Council resolution would force the department to follow some kind of a regular procedure — probably involving a requirement to work with members of a neighborhood — before it could place a charter school in a public building. "Make community stakeholders part of that process," City Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, of the Bronx, said. "You fail miserably at including the people that have to deal with the fallout of the decisions that you make." Council Member Jessica Lappin of Manhattan, who chairs the council's work on public land use issues, said that charter schools should be placed in the same way that new traditional public schools are placed. "I have worked very hard to bring community members, principals, and the Department of Education together so that we can resolve the issues that inevitably arise," Lappin said. Why, she asked, shouldn't charter schools be placed in the same way? Testifying before the council, Department of Education officials said they agree that they need to improve the way that they bring in new schools, but they declined to support the resolution that would force them to follow a new procedure when doing it.
March 11, 2009
A divided house spars over charter schools' growth in Harlem
The large auditorium at P.S. 194 in Harlem was filled to the brim for last night's meeting. <em>Photo by Kyla Calvert. </em> Despite repeated cries for a calmer debate, including one from a City Council representative who said he was dismayed by the "divided house," it was wagging fists, name-calling, and raucous shouting matches that ruled the day at a hearing last night in Harlem. The crowd had gathered to discuss the city's proposal to replace P.S. 194, an elementary school the city announced in December it plans to phase out, with a charter school founded by Eva Moskowitz. But they left late last night with no consensus on what to do next, aside from the resounding certainty that the move to add more charter schools to Harlem — which now has 24 charter schools, making it second only to New Orleans in market saturation — will not happen without a bitter fight. Among those who spoke out against the charter school coming into P.S. 194 were Annie B. Martin, president of the New York chapter of the NAACP; City Council member Robert Jackson; City Council member Inez Dickens; a staff member of state Sen. Bill Perkins; and a representative of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Jackson not only condemned the decision but said he is considering holding a hearing at City Hall to pursue the matter. The dissenting voices often collided with equally passionate parents and teachers at the charter school, Harlem Success Academy 2, and the two camps found themselves in several shouting matches. At one point, a P.S. 194 mother screamed so loudly into the microphone about her despair that 194 is shutting down that a Harlem Success mother stood up with her finger to her mouth. "Shh!" she said. When the woman did not calm down, the charter school mother took her twin son and daughter by the hand and pulled them out of the auditorium. "I don't need my kids to see this," another Harlem Success mother had said moments earlier, tugging her children out of the assembly hall. At other moments, emotional testimony led pockets of the audience to rise to their feet in anger. The shouting drowned out any words.
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