September 25, 2012
The school year is only a few weeks underway, but the Department of Education is already hard at work figuring out where to put its new schools in 2013.
Today, the department announced that it had published “Educational Impact Statements” about changes it wants to make at 17 school buildings next year. The statements, which appeared on the department’s website on Thursday, are the first component of a public comment process that legally must precede any major changes to how school buildings are used.
Eight of the proposals are for new charter school co-locations, including seven in the Success Academies network. The network, which has opened 14 schools since it was founded by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz in 2006, was one of two charter management organizations that Mayor Bloomberg said during his State of the City address in January that he would like to see grow.
All of the Success schools, which employ non-unionized teachers, operate in public school buildings and its co-locations proposals tend to attract the most pubic outrage from union officials and school community members. Last year, two separate lawsuits were filed against the Department of Education and Moskowitz for Brooklyn co-location plans. A judge dismissed both suits.
SUNY’s Charter Schools Institute approved the network’s request to launch seven more schools next year, but until now exactly where the schools would open has been a question mark. Two were approved to open in Manhattan’s District 2, which has many high-performing and overcrowded elementary schools. Parents argued that the district did not need another elementary school option and could not accommodate one in any case.
But the city has proposed carving out space in two high school buildings that are located in the district but historically have enrolled few students from the area. One of the buildings, in Union Square, is the home of Washington Irving High School, which is being phased out for poor performance, and several small schools that have already opened to replace Irving. The other building houses the High School of Graphics Communications Arts, which the city unsuccessfully tried to close and reopen using an overhaul strategy called “turnaround” this past summer. Both buildings currently have fewer students than they were built to accommodate.
Already, at least one of the the Success proposals has stirred controversy. District 13 community members said they oppose the city’s plan to open Brooklyn Success Academy 5 at M.S. 265 Susan S. McKinney, a Fort Greene secondary school. The building also houses a District 75 school.
The building currently enrolls 470 students, less than 50 percent of its 1,035-student capacity, according to the city’s utilization estimate. But City Councilwoman Letitia James said she had safety concerns with placing elementary school-aged students in the same building as high school students. She also took issue with the lack of feedback sought by city officials before they proposed the plan.
“There’s really not much of a process,” said James, who attended an information meeting hosted by the department’s Division of Portfolio Planning on Wednesday night. “There has been no deliberation, no consideration, no transparency.”
The eighth new charter school co-location would add a new school in the Achievement First network, Aspire Elementary School, to the P.S. 202 building in Brooklyn’s District 19.
Most of the rest of the proposals the department announced today are grade truncations or expansions meant to bring schools’ grade structure in line with citywide norms. For example, the city wants to lop two grades off of Brooklyn College Academy so that it is a standard high school, rather than serving students in grades seven through 12, as it does now.
The city school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy, is set to consider the proposals at its Nov. 8 meeting. The date is months earlier than last year, when the panel didn’t vote to approve the Williamsburg Success co-location until March. The panel, whose members are mostly appointed by Bloomberg, has never rejected a city proposal.