By Mary Frost
QUEENS — The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) voted late Wednesday to approve “co-locating” a Success Academy charter school inside a Cobble Hill building already occupied by three public schools.
Before the meeting, several hundred sign-waving attendees held their own vote — of “no confidence” in the PEP. “Parents, students and educators have no vote on this panel,” many in the crowd read in unison. “This panel is here to rubber stamp the decision made by Bloomberg.”
After hours of impassioned two-minute comments from parents, teachers and school advocates, the PEP, dominated by mayoral appointees, voted to approve the Success Academy Cobble Hill charter school. They also voted to approve two other charter schools, one of them also a Success Academy school, in buildings occupied by public schools in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Attendees traveled more than an hour to the inaccessible Newtown High School in Corona, Queens from Brownstone Brooklyn. Some traveled by buses supplied by the United Federation of Teachers after the DOE refused to move the meeting closer to those involved.
Heckling and cries of “Shame!” interrupted the raucous meeting, with panel members refusing to answer or speak with commenters. Some audience members affiliated with “Occupy the DOE” wore sock puppets on their hands and called the panel the “Puppets for Educational Policy.”
The majority of the members of the PEP, which replaced the central school board, are appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and have never voted contrary to his wishes.
The Success Academy network, headed by former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, plans to wedge kindergarten through Grade 4 of “Success Academy Cobble Hill” in a building occupied by Brooklyn School for Global Studies, School for International Studies and P.S. 368 for special education students. The schools are located at 184 Baltic St. at Court Street.
The vast majority of those commenting were against the charter school co-location, while a small number, some affiliated with other charter school networks, spoke in favor of charter schools.
Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Park Slope/ Kensington ) said that District 15 is a model district because of the hard work of parents, teachers and students. “To ignore the community, to put in this school with no outreach in the community, really is an assault on public education,” he said.
Many said that sharing space at 184 Baltic St. is already a problem, and that children were eating lunch at 10:30 a.m. because of cafeteria crowding. Parents also said the additional space needs of children requiring special education services in the schools were not taken into account.
Jeff Tripp, a teacher at International Studies, said the gym was so crowded that high school students couldn’t take the required physical education classes in time to graduate.
Parent Kim Irby warned of the possibility of a backlash: “The seeds you sew will show up later and affect your children and your children’s children. You need to be conscious of the decisions you make that are not in favor of what our community wants. We need you to stand up to the mayor and say ‘I’m not going to be your puppet tonight.’”
Brian Davis, a supporter of charter schools, said to a chorus of boos that parents against the charter school were “desperate to maintain the status quo.”
Michael Fiorillo, who teaches at Newcomers High School in Queens, said he was attending to show that DOE’s “cowardly move to put the meeting in an obscure part of the city didn’t work.”
The meeting was heavily policed. Uniformed NYPD Community Affairs officers patrolled the auditorium, keeping the aisles clear, while men in white shirts wearing earpieces with curled wires strode about as if expecting an alien invasion. A private security team, which refused to identify themselves, also waded through the crowd. One guard, when asked who they were, laughed and said, “There’s all kinds of security here tonight.”
“The outcome was not unexpected,” Jim Devor, president of District 15’s Community Education Council, told the Brooklyn Eagle yesterday. Devor said he was awaiting the state’s rendering of an opinion on the suitability of the facility for the charter school.
“I expect it to come within the next few weeks,” he said. “Possibly before New Years — or maybe on Christmas Eve to screw up appeals.”
“Then the ‘bait and switch’ question becomes front and center.” Success Academy’s charter was originally approved for high-needs District 13 or 14, but then was moved to affluent District 15 after being approved — a move many have called a bait and switch tactic.
Devor said another question needing to be resolved was Success Academy’s stated plan to change its focus from English Language Learners and children attending failing schools out of District 15. A hearing would likely be required to make this change.
Grade five of the school will not fit into the building, which will be at 108 percent of capacity, according to figures supplied by DOE. Parents say those figures don’t take many factors into account, such as the extra space required by an unusually large number of special education students at the site.
Enrollment at the new Success Academy would ultimately increase to somewhere between 500 and 640 students, ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade.
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