November 19, 2009
Parents at Lower East Side schools that may soon be asked to share building space told DOE officials last night that a charter school expansion could not come at the expense of successful district schools.
Hundreds of parents packed into the auditorium of P.S. 20 last night to protest three proposed scenarios that would allow Girls Prep Charter School to grow its middle school program by re-arranging building space at neighboring district schools.
All of the proposals would require district school students to give up resource rooms like art and music rooms or science and computer labs, parents told DOE officials and members of the District 1 Community Education Council.
Parents speaking at the meeting repeatedly characterized that loss as a civil rights issue, charging the DOE with removing resources from predominantly poor and immigrant students.
“No matter what option is chosen, what a school in District 1 will lose is a science lab,” said Yuehru Chu, the mother of a kindergarten son at P.S. 184, the Shuang Wen school, one of five district schools that could potentially be affected. “Why is it that whatever option the DOE picks, it will result in the loss of art and music for a school that is overwhelmingly low-income?”
Girls Prep founder and executive director Miriam Lewis Raccah said her school is as squeezed for space as any of the district’s other schools and so she empathized with parents’ concerns. But Girls Prep has been successful in a small, shared space, Raccah said, and so could other schools.
“The civil right is to an excellent education,” she said. “It’s not about having an art room.”
Charter schools are not legally guaranteed public building space, but the Bloomberg administration has granted some charters space in district school buildings. Girls Prep’s Lower East Side elementary school currently shares space with two district schools and wants to keep their middle school in the neighborhood.
The CEC meeting was the first step in a relatively new process of soliciting public feedback on proposed changes to school building use in community school districts. The DOE will accept public comment on their three proposals until December 10 and plans to prepare a final recommendation by the end of the year, officials said. A hearing at the affected school will follow, and the citywide Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the final plan at their February meeting.
The large turn-out was organized primarily by parents at Shuang Wen and P.S. 20 who learned that their schools could be affected last week when DOE officials walked through the buildings to determine what space could potentially be used for new buildings. Shuang Wen parents have also launched a website that allows parents to send a template email or fax to elected officials protesting changes to the school.
An aide to City Councilman and Comptroller-elect John Liu said that his office had been receiving the faxes “in masses.” The superintendent for District 1, Daniella Phillips, said that she received between 260 and 270 template emails yesterday. She encouraged parents to provide more substantive feedback like suggestions for alternative proposals or corrections to DOE enrollment or building data.
Several parents asked DOE officials to re-evaluate the formula used to determine whether a school building has available space for more students or a new school. Troy Robinson, a parent and member of Shuang Wen’s School Leadership Team, urged the DOE to determine building needs in a more “comprehensive” way that focused less on mathematical formulas and more on a qualitative judgment of how schools use space.
Debra Kurshan, the interim director of the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Planning, defended the department’s formula. “We have to have some way of measuring across schools,” she said.