Parents balk at DOE plan to move charter school into Seth Low

Charge two schools in one building will lead to overcrowding

September 25, 2013 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The ongoing turf war between neighborhood public schools and charter schools has come to Bensonhurst.

Parents in that community are up in arms over a plan by the New York City Department of Education to move a charter school into Seth Low Intermediate School. Under the proposal, Seth Low IS, located at 99 Avenue P, would share its building with New Success Academy, a charter school, starting in September of 2014.

It’s a discussion being played out in neighborhoods all across the city, as charter schools hungry for space and traditional public schools eager to hold onto their turf fight it out.

The new plan will be the subject of a public hearing on Sept. 30 at Seth Low IS. The hearing, co-sponsored by the Dept. of Education (DOE) and the Community Education Council (CEC) of School District 21, will begin at 6 p.m.

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The city’s Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on final approval of the plan to co-locate Seth Low and the New Success Academy in mid-October.

DOE is also seeking to have another District 21 intermediate school, Joseph Cavallaro IS at 8787 24th Ave., share its building with another charter school, Coney Island Prep.

Siding with parents, the District 21 CEC recently voted to reject both the Seth Low and the Cavallaro plans.

The CEC has also started a “Stop The Charter School Invasion” movement and is urging parents to call the DOE at 212-374-0208 or email the agency at [email protected] to voice their objections to the plans for Seth Low and Cavallaro.

Parents at Seth Low charged that the plan is unfair to their children because it would result in overcrowded conditions in the building, increase pedestrian and vehicular traffic outside the school, and lead to safety problems. In addition, parents said they resented the fact that their children, who often have less than adequate school supplies, would be sharing their building with charter school youngsters who are given the best of everything, including iPads.

“We have 800 kids at Seth Low. We don’t want to have our children to face overcrowded conditions. Our biggest concern is overcrowding. It takes away from our kids,” said Dawn Mille, whose son is a sixth grader at the school.

“You’ll have a lot more children crossing the street to get back and forth to school and that could lead to dangerous conditions in terms of traffic,” Mille told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

“My hope is that they’ll nip this thing in the bud,” said Seth Low PTA President Tamara Perkins. “Instead of making us share a building with a charter school, why don’t you just build a better public school?” she asked.

Perkins said parents are worried that once the New Success Charter Academy moves in, it will take over the entire building, displacing Seth Low students.

There’s also the matter of children’s self-esteem, according to Perkins. “These charter school kids get all sorts of things that our kids don’t get. Our kids have books that are four to five years old. I don’t like the idea of my daughter having to sit next to someone treated better than she is. We should be all about equality in our schools,” she said.

Heather Fiorica, president of the District 21 CEC, told the Eagle that the council isn’t opposed to charter schools per se, just the idea of placing them in these two schools. “We are never against a charter school. We believe in choice for parents,” she said.

“But we’re concerned about what will happen in the future after the charter schools move in. How can a middle school grow and accept more students if it is sharing its building with an entire other school?” Fiorica asked.

In its resolution against the Cavallaro plan, the CEC stated that the DOE’s Enrollment-Capacity-Utilization Report, “often overestimates the extent of space in our schools.”

The District 21 CEC has jurisdiction over public schools in Coney Island, Gravesend and parts of Bensonhurst.

Parents and the District 21 CEC also have the support of neighbors in District 20 CEC in Bay Ridge, as well as Community Board 11 in Bensonhurst. The latter voted unanimously at its meeting on Sept. 10 to oppose the Seth Low plan.

Board 11 District Manager Marnee Elias-Pavia said the board is concerned about traffic safety on Avenue P and other streets surrounding the school. “Avenue P just underwent traffic improvements. Now, we will have 2,400 kids within one block,” she said.

In addition to Seth Low and the New Success Academy, there is another school in the vicinity, the Lucretia Marcigliano Educational Campus at 50 Avenue P.

DOE officials defended the co-location plan, saying it is part of an overall strategy to improve the quality of education for public school children.

“A decade ago, we inherited a broken school system that, for decades, failed to graduate even half its students. Since then, we’ve delivered historic highs in graduation rates, lowered drop-out rates by half, and given parents more school options than ever before in city history,” DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield told the Eagle.

“A once broken system has been transformed with new, high performing schools – and those additional options have delivered extraordinary outcomes for children. Our strategy has worked, and with this new school, that progress will continue,” Hartfield said.

Officials rejected the argument that Seth Low would become overcrowded if the New Success Charter Academy moved in. Seth Low’s enrollment has declined by 32 percent since 2008 and is currently operating at 55 percent capacity, officials said.

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