UPDATE: A statement was received Wednesday evening from the spokesperson for Success Academy, Jenny Sedlis, in reaction to local parents filing suit against its founder and trustees today.
"The politics of education should never get in the way of the mission of
providing children in every neighborhood with the academic preparation
they need to succeed," wrote Sedlis. "Success Academy Cobble Hill has been met with overwhelming demand from District 15 families looking for another high-quality public school option, so much so that two months before the application deadline, we already have an in-district wait list. It's unfortunate that a few adults intent on protecting the status quo would sue to sacrifice the possibility of a brighter education and future for hundreds of children, and we will fight this lawsuit vigorously to ensure that doesn't happen."
District 15 parents, legal advocates and other supporters from the community held a press conference outside of , between Court and Smith Streets, Wednesday morning to announce their intention to sue founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools Eva Moskowitz, Brooklyn Success Academy III Trustees and the DOE over the alleged unlawful authorization of the charter school.
The impassioned speeches were as chilly as the temperature on the sidewalk.
"The Success Charter Network and Eva Moskowitz with the participation of the SUNY Board of Trustees have unlawfully in violation of the school's charter and charter law," said Sabrina Tann, senior staff counsel for Advocates for Justice.
Tann noted that the 284 Baltic St. building currently houses three existing schools—, and PS 368, a special-education program—pointing out that once Brooklyn Success Academy III is operating at full capacity the building will be at 108% of its utilization with more than 1,700 occupants, at the expense of classroom size, scheduling and other opportunities for existing students.
"This particular empire believes that it doesn't have to play by the rules," summed up Chris Owens, Executive Director at Advocates for Justice, a public interest law firm. The validity of the DOE's facility agreement, allowing the Success Academy Network to co-locate Brooklyn Success Academy in District 15 is called into question by the suit, as is the agreement to allow BSA to use the space for $1 per year due to its status as a not-for-profit. At least one member of the SUNY board who approved the charter recently resigned over issues related to the application, The New York Times reported.
Residents opposed to the charter said paying $1 for rent and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in advertising doesn't add up, and vented that they were never asked if they wanted the charter in the first place.
"I am against a charter school coming to this facility," said Pamela Bynoe, PTA President at the School for Global Studies. "I was never asked for my opinion of a charter coming to this school and now they will be appointed more room than the existing schools here... What they are aiming to do is phase out these two schools. As [Moskowitz'] students develop and as time goes on, I can't see how she will have 600-something students in a school, Global Studies remaining at 5-something and International at 5-something. This is well over-crowded."
Colleen Mingo, an SLT member and parent concurred. "My son should not lose out on valuable space and opportunities, just because the Success charter network does not play by the rules," echoed Mingo. "Had Eva Moskowitz bothered to it would have saved her a lot of trouble. Now she has left us no other choice but to take legal action."
Representatives from other schools in the neighborhood showed support for the plight of the 284 Baltic St.
"Shame on Eva Moskowitz, the DOE and on the SUNY Board of Regents for allowing this travesty to go forward!" Martha Foote, a visibly emphatic parent at PS 321, said. "It makes me so furious to think that whatever Eva wants, Eva gets. And what happens is that our children get pushed to the side, shunted to a terrible, overcrowded situation and lesser opportunity for their education because Eva wants to continue with her empire building."
The Brooklyn Success Academy charter was originally granted by the SUNY Board of Trustees for districts 13 and 14, but placed in district 15 .
"It's mind-boggling to me that they will let parents and children get pushed to the side," said Foote. "It's a disgrace. We want our schools back."
Larissa Bailiff, PTA President of PS 32 expressed her school's solidarity and dismay about the situation. "And I'd like to express my concern as a parent and member of the PTA that if this happens, it's just going to disrupt all of the public schools in Brooklyn and not improve the lives of families and children who really need it," Bailiff said.
Gloria Mattera, a parent at MS 447, said she has been an avid supporter of the fight against Brooklyn Success Academy since the beginning because it affects her neighbors.
"I want to be part of this lawsuit. I am a part of this lawsuit. It's a community effort," she said. "The Brooklyn Success Academy is clearly illegally being placed in this school and this is something that we cannot allow.
"I would like to add," Mattera continued, "that after going to many public hearings and rallies, that no one has listened."
, a parent at PS 32, closed out the conference, calling into question Moskowitz's integrity: "The feeling that a lot of us have is that this is an instance of stealing from the poor to give to the rich," said Johnson. "If you live in this neighborhood you've been subjected to a PR blitzkrieg for Success Academy. For her to say that she's not for profit, and here to serve the needy... Well, this school in its present incarnation serves the needy. Setting up a charter school in this location sabotages that effort."