Opponents Slam Location of Vote On Charter School

Cobble Hill Parents Must Travel to Queens

By Mary Frost

COBBLE HILL — The anger over placing a Success Academy charter school inside a building housing three schools in Cobble Hill reached a new high this week.

Following last Tuesday’s raucous charter school co-location hearing in Cobble Hill, where former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz plans to open her new charter school, local parents expressed outrage when they learned that the Department of Education (DOE) has moved the Dec. 14 Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) vote to a location inaccessible to District 15 parents — Newtown High School in Queens.

Subway and bus times to Newtown High School from District 15 (which runs from Red Hook to Sunset Park) can add up to almost two hours from some areas. The temporary closure of the G train station at Smith and 9th streets exacerbates the situation for families living in Red Hook and Gowanus.

“It’s an act of cowardliness,” said Jim Devor, president of District 15’s Community Education Council. “There are no major school utilization issues in Queens on that agenda. We have yet to hear why Brooklyn Tech is not available.”

Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz shot off a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Monday requesting that the meeting be held in Brooklyn.

His letter read in part, “My office has received hundreds of emails over the past few days requesting that the Dec. 14 PEP meeting be switched to Brooklyn Tech. I believe that if the Lower Manhattan space suddenly became unavailable, it should have been moved to Brooklyn in the first place.”

He added, “The placement of Success Academy has many in the community concerned about why their needs are not being heard.”

Moskowitz plans to open Success Academy Cobble Hill at a site that houses three existing public schools: Brooklyn School for Global Studies, School for International Studies and P.S. 368 for special ed children. The schools are located at 184 Baltic St.

Explosive Hearing Rattles Cobble Hill

At last week’s hearing, education officials, teachers, parents and students testified for hours in the auditorium. Parent Melinda Martinez testified, “Sharing space is already a problem. Cutting classrooms and adding more students to classes means my kids will not receive the same type of education they’ve been receiving.”

Dr. Clare Daley, the technology teacher at Global Studies, said, “All of the common spaces within the three schools are already maxed out. We are now a desirable high school, and we will continue to grow. But we will not be allowed to grow with another school in the building.”

Parents also said the additional needs of children requiring special education services at Global Studies — almost a third of the student body — were not taken into account in the Environmental Impact Statement.

While hundreds of parents and officials were vocally against the co-location of Success Academy at the site, roughly a half dozen supporters held a press conference before the hearing.

Serise Vaughan, who supports the new charter school, says her child is zoned for P.S. 32 at Hoyt and President streets. “They have trailers outside in the playground. The kindergartners through second-graders don’t have space to play there.” She said that she learned about Success Academy when “they were giving out flyers in the Gowanus Houses.”

At Least 108 Percent Capacity

DOE’s Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said that enrollment at the new Success Academy would ultimately increase to somewhere between 500 and 640 students, ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade. A planned fifth grade will not fit into the building, which will be at 108 percent capacity by 2016.

Devor pressed SUNY Charter Institute’s Tom Franta to explain how the school could open in District 15 when it was originally approved for District 13. Franta replied that the Charter Institute had no problem with locating the school anywhere in Brooklyn. “A move within Brooklyn is not considered a material change,” he said, “only a change in name or an at-risk design factor.”

When Devor asked if someone could go through the required community outreach in Brownsville and then turn around and open the school in far-away Dyker Heights without a hearing, Franta said “Yes.”

Devor disagreed with Sternberg when the latter claimed that District 15 students would get first preference at the school. “They won’t. On page 10 of your EIS [environmental impact statement], specific preferences are listed.”

According to the EIS, applicants attending failing schools or who are English Language Learners (children who have trouble with the English language) in District 15 get first preference, followed by children attending failing schools or who are English Language Learners outside of District 15. Only after these applicants receive seats do regular District 15 students receive consideration.

“There’s no way to populate this school with only District 15 students who attend failing schools,” Devor said. “There are only three failing schools in District 15.”

In another exchange, Sternberg admitted, in response to Devor’s questioning, that it was Moskowitz, Success Academy’s founder, who chose the location for the school — not DOE. District 15 was never consulted as to their needs, Devor said.

Deep Pockets Fund Petition, PR Campaign

Employees of the Success Academy Charter Network have been blanketing subway stops and busy intersections over the last two weeks asking passersby to sign a petition supporting increased “school choice.” In Park Slope a 16-year-old in a Catholic school uniform refused to sign because “I’m in high school.”

An email is being circulated around Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill warning, “Please read and understand what you are being asked to sign before you sign petitions on the street.”

According to the New York Daily News, the Success Charter Network spent $1.6 million in the 2009-2010 school year just for publicity and recruitment of new students. The money comes from private hedge fund executives and conservative foundations.

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