May 2, 2012
A public hearing to discuss Success Academy’s bid to open two new charter schools in Manhattan’s District 2 next year was dominated by angry residents who said the district’s schools are too crowded to share space.
Parents from the district and members of its elected parent council said they opposed the proposal from the charter network because the district — which includes the Upper East Side down through Greenwich Village, Tribeca, and Lower Manhattan — is already overcrowded.
The council passed resolutions at the end of March calling for Success Academy to find its own building instead of moving into existing public schools and for a moratorium on charter school applications in the district.
“You can come in if you’re invited, but if the families are saying don’t come in, I don’t think you should come in,” said Shino Tanikawa, president of the Community Education Council for District 2. Tanikawa said she thinks of charter schools as “vampires.”
Most parents at the public hearing had children enrolled in one of the six schools located at the Julia Richman Education Complex on the Upper East Side or P.S. 158, whose co-located school, P.S. 267, is set to depart for its own space in September.
“What you’re essentially trying to do if you want to get into the complex is put 14 pounds of sand in a 10 pound bag,” said Guy Workman, whose daughter attends Talent Unlimited High School in the Richman Complex.
Widespread crowding is nothing new in District 2, and neither is criticism of Success Academy schools: The charge that it should find its own space has followed the network, which is run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, virtually wherever it has sought to open.
In February, a hearing about the network’s application for a school in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg attracted hundreds of people, both supporters and protesters who said the network shouldn’t get public space because it had not adequately recruited among Spanish-speaking families. That same month, a group of parents from Cobble Hill filed a lawsuit against Moskowitz and Success Academy to prevent the charter network from moving into a neighborhood school building. The two schools are among three the network is set to open this fall.
The network regularly encourages current parents to speak out at hearings about its proposed schools. On Tuesday, Ryan Dunn, the mother of twin boys who attend the network’s Upper West Side location, said Success had sped the progress of one son who had special needs. Parents should have a choice to be able to try to find alternative to their zoned schools, said Dunn, who was then interrupted by shouting from the small, crowded room. “People wouldn’t send in applications if there wasn’t interest,” Dunn added.
Neither Moskowitz nor representatives from the State University of New York charter board, which must approve the network’s application to open the new schools, attended the meeting, held at the Department of Education’s Midtown office.
So critics of the proposed schools directed their remarks toward the Recy Dunn, executive director of the city’s charter schools office. Parents questioned Dunn about which schools would be chosen to share space with incoming Success Academy schools, if the applications are approved, and over the late notification prior to the meeting.
“It was, as many parents said, very last minute. None of the PTA was able to come, so I’m going to be reporting back the information I got,” said Doris Moreira-Douek, whose daughter attends P.S. 2 in the Lower East Side near Chinatown. She found out about Tuesday’s hearing in a school letter sent home last week and said parents at P.S. 2 were prepared to fight if the department picks it to house a Success charter school.
The Department of Education typically places charter schools in space that it says is underused. The department has acknowledged the sweeping scale of overcrowding in many parts of District 2, and a spokeswoman for the Success Charter Network, Kerri Lyon, said today that it would only seek space in school buildings that are underutilized. Lyon said the network’s Upper West Side school had received 100 applications from District 2 families this year.
A handful of elementary schools in the district are not operating at full enrollment, especially in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen, and multiple high schools in the district are being phased out, which would open up additional space.
The Department of Education has opened several new elementary schools in District 2 in recent years and another, the Peck Slip School, is set to open in September. Parents at the hearing said they preferred available space to be given to a new public middle school. They also said they weren’t against the charter network but argued that the schools should find locations outside of the district’s packed schools.
“The relationships that we built across the grades and across the different schools are amazing,” said Joshua Satin, vice-principal of Ella Baker School in the Richman Complex. “It’s a great place and it should not be touched.”
Success Academy Charter Schools has also applied to open a school in East Harlem’s District 4 next year and three new schools in Brooklyn. Mayor Bloomberg has said he is encouraging the network to expand quickly, and the six schools would be the most the network has opened in a single year.
Rose D’souza is a graduate student at Columbia University’s journalism school.