Op-Ed: Let Districts Decide on School Co-locations

April 27, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Jim Devor, president of Brooklyn’s Community Education Council for District 15 (CEC-15) testified before the New York City Council Education Committee hearing on co-locations held on April 19 and explained why CECs should be given the authority to approve or disapprove co-location proposals in their respective districts. Here is his testimony:

I don’t want to burden this hearing with yet another generic diatribe in opposition to all co-locations. In fact, my CEC has a record of support for specific co-location proposals in our district.   

Unlike some, we at CEC-15 have not been unalterably opposed to charter schools.  Likewise we are very engaged with space utilization matters in our district.  Hence, as described in an article by Mark Morales in [the April 18 edition of the] Daily News, we have repeatedly called out the DOE and the School Construction Authority over their continuing neglect of overcrowded, impoverished areas like Sunset Park.

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At the same time, we have also been acutely sensitive to underutilization issues in the northern part of our district — even to the point of being open to co-locations in general and temporary co-locations of charter schools in particular. Thus, most of us conditionally supported the co-location of a new high school in a school building in Park Slope. Likewise, we offered no opposition to the temporary co-location of a secondary charter school in another school building in Red Hook. Still further, we actively lobbied for the temporary housing of yet another secondary charter school in public school space. To our astonishment,  that offer was summarily rejected by the DOE (at a cost of tremendous community upheaval throughout our district). It was only much later that we discovered, as outlined below, the true reason for the rejection of our proposal.

It is in that context then, that I want to spend my remaining time discussing  an example of a truly terrible co-location that has befallen our district and the unfettered mendacity upon which it was successfully implemented.

Our Council was cognizant of the potential availability of “underutilized” space in a Cobble Hill school building currently housing two secondary schools and a District 75 program.  As such, we were certainly open to proposals for co-locations of other programs in the facility.  Those possibilities included the “incubation” of a locally created and supported and newly approved charter middle school (Brooklyn Urban Garden School — aka “BUGS”) or better yet, an early childhood center proposed by former Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina.

Instead of listening to our suggestions and taking them seriously, we learned of the DOE’s plan to co-locate a Success Academy in our district from a New York Times blog.  Further, we have heard constantly shifting (and often contradictory) rationales for that co-location.  

First, the DOE claimed, it was going to co-locate the charter school in Cobble Hill in order to reduce the overcrowding of two of our nearby elementary schools.  We responded that there was no interest in such a “choice” for parents zoned for those schools and more importantly, to actively recruit such children to the detriment of ELLs (English language learners) and those zoned to attend “failing schools,” violated the terms of the charter that Success Academy had obtained from the state.

After the co-location was approved by those “profiles in courage,” the PEP (Panel for Educational Policy), we adduced further evidence that the imminent severe “overcrowding” of the nearby schools was a myth. For instance, the DOE has just announced that the local Cobble Hill elementary school (P.S. 29) has a kindergarten wait list of three and the Carroll Gardens school (P.S. 58) has a wait list of four. As such, their combined wait list of seven was actually less than that of our Gowanus elementary school (P.S. 32), which the DOE claimed was so “underutilized” that it (unsuccessfully) proposed a charter school co-location there just the year before!  

The DOE then argued, the co-location was actually intended to focus on the overcrowding in Sunset Park many miles away. How that Charter School was going to entice a predominantly immigrant population to freely bus their little ones, however, was never actually addressed.   Furthermore, I have yet to see any advertising brochures put out by Success Academy in District 15 printed in Spanish or Chinese — even though those languages predominate in Sunset Park.

Then, those other courageous characters, the SUNY Board of Trustees, thoughtfully responded to our concerns on behalf of children zoned to attend failing schools and ELLs. Accordingly, they summarily approved lifting of those “at-risk” factors in all Success Academy lottery admissions preferences and replacing them with a temporary, phony ELL “set aside” which, in the case of District 15,  was actually lower than the K-8 ELL population!  

As this sad history shows, the real message unambiguously sent by the DOE was that powerful people get what they want no matter how deep, broad or reasoned a community’s opposition might be.  That course of conduct must be contained. Therefore, both for that reason and because our CEC  has a record of supporting co-locations — when they are appropriate — we enthusiastically back the bill introduced by Assembly Member Wright which grants CECs the authority to approve or disapprove co-location proposals in their respective districts.

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