July 22, 2010
When two courts halted the city’s plans to close 19 public schools this year, judges ruled that the city didn’t follow state law that requires it to engage parents and report the impact that the changes will have on students’ educations.
Now Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is arguing that the city is making the same mistakes when it decides to place multiple schools in the same buildings.
In a report released today, de Blasio charges that the city did not give parents enough information about how changes to space usage would affect instructional programs or about public hearings on the changes.
“They’re just doing the minimum amount of parent outreach so they can say they did,” de Blasio said today.
De Blasio’s office and the Alliance for Quality Education surveyed nearly 875 parents at 34 schools, about half of those that the city proposed moving into new, shared space last year. (Roughly half of public schools citywide currently share building space with other schools.)
The survey included responses from parents at both district and charter schools. It also included several schools that were the sites of fierce battles over colocation last school year, including the Clinton School for Writers and Artists and the American Sign Language School; Girls Prep Charter School and P.S. 188; and PAVE Charter School and P.S. 15.
More than 40 percent of the parents who responded said that the city had not provided specific detail on how the school’s current offerings would change under altered space arrangements.
When the city makes any changes to how school facilities are used, state law requires it to prepare an “educational impact statement” (EIS) detailing how the changes will affect students and the surrounding community. Fewer than half of the parents reported that they even knew that the city had prepared an analysis of the changes, and only a quarter ever saw a copy of the analysis.
The court rulings threw out the city’s EIS’s for its 19 school closure proposals, but judges were silent on whether accompanying proposals to move new schools into those buildings would also be affected. In part to avoid another lawsuit, the city struck a deal with the teachers union to place fewer new schools in buildings alongside schools that had been slated to close.
Speaking at a press conference with de Blasio today, a parent leader at one of the schools affected by that deal complained that parents had been shut out of the process from the start.
“We never hear about the hearings,” said Yvette Chico, vice president of the parent association at he William H. Maxwell CTE High School. “They never let us know.”
De Blasio has staked out a cautious middle ground between the city and the union on education issues, endorsing the charter cap lift but also calling for a halt on siting them in city school buildings. Under a rallying cry of boosting the parent voice in the school system, de Blasio has made colocations his central education issue.
DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said that the city was always trying to improve how it engages with parents, but criticized de Blasio’s focus on the educational impact statements. City officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have frequently said that the importance of their school closing efforts outweighs the details of state law.
“We wish the Public Advocate showed the same amount of concern for our children stuck in failing schools as he does for DOE processes,” Zarin-Rosenfeld said.
De Blasio said that he did not know of any potential legal challenges to the DOE’s process of siting schools, nor did he challenge the legitimacy of school siting arrangements that were approved last year. Instead, he called for a moratorium on new school colocations until the city improves its process.
And Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, called on Albany to revise the school governance law to make explicit exactly what information the city needs to include in its impact statements.
Here’s the full report: