Success Charter Network already operates nine charter schools in New York City, and last night, the Department of Education moved forward with its
At the proposed co-location site for the charter, the school building located at 284 Baltic St. in Cobble Hill, hundreds of parents, educators, students and elected officials rallied for nearly five hours against the proposed co-location of a K-4 school in the building. While some supporters of the charter school were in attendance, they were outnumbered.
Many times the crowd, holding signs that read "Co-Locations: Seperate and Unequal" or "Charters = Privatization and Inequity," would erupt with collective booing and hissing, or applause, depending on which side of the debate a speaker was on. The crowd was loud and at times, forceful in their opinions. One man, who said he was a teacher, shouted profanities, and was escorted out by police.
The fight that played out last night is the latest in a long-running series that is taking place between local school districts and the city Department of Education under Mayor Bloomberg. Schools and districts often fight to keep charter schools from co-locating in public school buildings - sometimes successfully as at - but more often than not, the charters are approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, which votes with Bloomberg, a charter school supporter.
The views of those who spoke at the meeting were varied. Some said the Success Charter Network couldn't be trusted because in their initial application to the SUNY Charter School Network they had applied for charters in Districts 13 and 14, citing a need for better schools and more options for parents in those districts.
The original charter applied for features a lottery system that gives preference to "at risk" students (low income or English Language Learners) in Districts 13 and 14. Success Charter network needs approval from SUNY if it wants to amend that language, which, according to Tom Franta from SUNY, the charter has said it intends to do.
Eddie Rodriguez, a Sunset Park resident and a member of the District 15 Community Education Council, said he opposed the charter in Cobble Hill, and said there was a much greater need for seats in other areas of the district, including his neighborhood, and the South Slope. And although the charter will be open to students from all over the district, Rodriguez said parents from the far corners would not attempt to send their youngsters so far.
“My neighbors, most of them don’t even speak English, are not going to send their kindergartners to BoCoCa,” he said.
"Parents will do anything to provide a high quality education for their child," he said. "Regadless of race, regardless of anything."
Many in attendance were teachers, students and parents with kids who attend the middle and high schools currently located at 284 Baltic St.: the School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies. They voiced concern that the schools would become overcrowded if the Charter moved in, and indeed, Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said the school would operate at 108 percent capacity when the school was fully enrolled, with upwards of 1,700 students.
"You will choke the progress of Global Studies," said one speaker. In the past year, Global Studies has gone from a .
But the DOE says the building has room for more students. In 2010-2011, the building served 913 students, with a "building utilization rate" of just 57 percent.
A teacher at Global Studies, Clare Daley, said with the charter in the building, students will have to share common areas like the gym and cafeteria that are already crowded. Some students will have lunch at 10:30 a.m. and others at 2:30 p.m., she added.
Elected officials also voiced opposition to the co-location, including Assemblyman Jim Brennan, City Councilmembers Brad Lander and Steve Levin, State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, Female Democratic District Leader for the 52nd Assembly Distric Jo Anne Simon and Assemblywoman Joan Millman, who has proposed a different idea for the district: an early education center for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten age children.
Sternberg said Millman's proposal "could be another terrific idea" from District 15, but said the DOE had never received an official application.
But Millman said there was no application to be filed.
"We're going to present it tonight. There's no other process that i've seen. I spoke to a lobbyist for the DOE and he said "We're not considering that,'" said Millman. "It's all top down."
Sternberg said, as has Success Charter Network, led by former City Councilmember Eva Moskowitz, that the growing number of Kindergarten aged children in the area, evidenced by the high number of applicants to PS 29 and PS 58, is what sparked the network's interest in opening a school.
Jim DeVor, President of the District 15 Community Education Council, said Millman's alternative proposal should be considered.
Before the hearing, a rally was held outside the school. Holding signs that were all drawn with the same markers, more than a dozen parents that live in the district said they supported the charter and want more options for their kids.
"The community needs it, Gowanus needs it, I want them to open this school up," said Serice Vaughan, a resident of the Gowanus Houses.
"The anti-charter school forces should not be allowed to shut down schools," said Red Hook resident and mother of two Lisa Chamberlain, who tried to open a charter in her neighborhood last year but was defeated. "It [a charter] injects competition in what is otherwise a monopoly. People want choices in doctors and in car insurance," they should have a choice in education, too.
Jeff Tripp, a teacher at the School for International Studies and a member of the Community Education Council, expressed dismay in the hearing at how a charter school operating within the realm of public education could be so seemingly unequal.
"When Eva Moskowitz takes home $350,000 and the number of homeless students is through the roof that's unethical, immoral, that is not success!" he said, his face bright red.
The crowd roared in approval, with many jumping to their feet, shouting "Shame! Shame!"
The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on this proposal on Dec. 14 at 6 p.m. at Newtown High School, 4801 90th St., in Flushing, Queens. Note location change, which was announced last night.