June 10, 2011
(Update: A spokesperson for the city Administration for Children Services tells GothamSchools that Strong Place and Bethel Day Care Centers will continue operating until Friday, June 17, in order to give parents more time to find alternative care options.)
A charter school with an uncertain future has found private space for the next school year, hoping to appease the neighborhood opposition where it’s currently co-located.
But in the process, it collided with another citywide controversy: the mayor’s decision to close day care centers.
Brooklyn Prospect Charter School has co-located at Sunset Park High School since it opened two years ago, but that community wants them out. So last week, the school signed a one-year lease this week to move into 238 Hoyt Street in Boerum Hill. A permanent, privately-funded facility scheduled to open in 2012 is being built down the road.
The challenge is that the previous tenants at the rental building were two popular day care centers that have been neighborhood institutions for over 30 years. Bethel Day Care and Strong Place Day Care are two of eight programs ending as a result of Mayor Bloomberg’s budget cuts.
Today, Bethel and Strong Place were among five centers to close their doors for good. Parents, employees and young children from the centers joined Council Member Steve Levin outside of the building to protest the cuts.
“We’re here to stand up against what the city has done. Stand up against what the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School has done,” said Levin, who was joined by State Assembly Member Joan Millman and about 30 others. “These programs, we have fought for year after year, so that your children have a safe place to stay.”
The centers would have closed regardless, but Levin partially blamed Brooklyn Prospect’s pursuit of the $750,000 lease for the inability to restore funding.
“It’s tough enough to get funding restored for the daycare centers, but when you have a charter school come in and sign a lease, it makes it all the more difficult,” he said.
The lease includes a termination clause that would allow the centers to stay if they could afford the rent. That looked increasingly unlikely, however, with Bloomberg holding firm to his budget cuts.
Several parents pledged to return next week and resume their protest even though the centers’ doors would be closed.
“Keep on your toes because this fight is not over. We might have to be back here on Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” Levin said to cheers.
If a termination clause is somehow enacted, Brooklyn Prospect would have to turn back to its original option, the contentious co-location at Sunset Park High School.
Sunset Park High School opened in 2009 in a brand new, five-story building with state-of-the-art facilities. It is the culmination of a nearly four-decade fight to build a high school for the neighborhood’s growing population. The financial crisis during the1970s initially stalled their efforts, but the community did not give up its fight.
Brooklyn Prospect opened the same year with one sixth grade class. It was supposed to be temporary, but the co-location was extended each of the last two years this year , leading critics to question whether it would ever leave.
“It flies in the face of DOE’s promise to our community, which fought for 40 years to get our one and only high school,” said Sunset Park’s Community Board Manager Jeremy Laufer. “Why should we now believe their promise that this will only be one year?”
Brooklyn Prospect executive director Daniel Rubenstein declined to comment.
As part of efforts to revise its co-location plans, the education department will hold a joint public hearing for Sunset Park High School, but it’s unclear whether that will be necessary now that Brooklyn Prospect has found its own space.
A Department of Education spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.
NYC Charter School Center Chief Executive Officer James Merriman wrote in a blog post today that the criticism toward Brooklyn Prospect was misguided.
“The fact is that these two day care centers are being shut down because New York City has defunded them not because their space is being rented out to the charter school by a private landlord,” Merriman wrote.
“If ever there was a more damned if you do damned if you don’t situation, I haven’t seen it.”