Charter school mess spills into neighboring community

October 4, 2013 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The fight over putting a Success Academy charter school in Seth Low Intermediate School in Bensonhurst is having an effect on the neighboring community, according to a local education official, who said the battle is spilling over the border between two school districts.

Laurie Windsor, president of the Community Education Council of School District 20, said that while Seth Low IS is a District 21 school, the future of students in her district is tied up with Seth Low. The school is also called IS 96 by educators.

Windsor testified at a Sept. 30 Department of Education (DOE) public hearing on the Success Academy-Seth Low matter.

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“The zone for IS 96 has more students from District 20 than from District 21. Seth Low has historically been a feeder school for District 20 elementary schools. Approximately 53 percent of IS 96’s zone is from District 20. Therefore our district has a vested interest in the future of IS 96,” Windsor said.

If the Department of Education plan is approved, and Success Academy is permitted to set up shop in Seth Low IS at 99 Avenue P, the building could quickly become overcrowded, crowding out students from District 20, Windsor said.

“District 20 has been and will continue to be in desperate need of more junior high school seats, “ Windsor said. “CEC20 has been relaying this message to the DOE for years and has had conversations with the DOE’s Portfolio Division on this,” she said.

Adding to the problem is that District 20’s elementary school population has been growing by leaps and bounds, she said. Under DOE’s 2005-2009 Capital Plan, some 5,400 new seats were created through construction of new school buildings and expansion of existing buildings. But no new space was ever created at the middle school level, she charged.

“Where will these children go to school when they enter sixth grade? This issue is of great concern to us, and we look forward to continuing to work with the DOE to look for creative solutions, including implementing the space available at IS 96 in appropriate ways,” Windsor said.

“Putting an elementary level charter school in that building is certainly not the answer!” she said.

At issue is a plan by DOE to set aside space inside Seth Low IS to accommodate the Success Academy, a kindergarten to fourth grade charter school, starting in September2014. Success Academy will accept students via a lottery system, similar to the enrollment process at other charter schools.

The proposal is contingent upon Success Academy being granted a charter by the State University of New York (SUNY).

Opponents of the plan said it isn’t fair to have a charter school, which can cherry pick to find the best students, and a regular public school, which under law has to accept all children, co-existing in the same building. “They don’t follow the same rules as we do,” said Corinne Kaufman, a math teacher.

Opponents also charged that the charter school will take away much-needed classroom space from Seth Low students and prevent the school from expanding its enrichment programs in the arts. Parents also expressed concern that the presence of the charter school would set up a two-tier class system in which the charter school’s students would be given the best of everything, including iPads, while their Seth Low counterparts are left to languish in overcrowded classrooms with five-year-old textbooks.

“Why put a charter school in a neighborhood that didn’t want one? It doesn’t make any sense,” Councilman David Greenfield (D-Borough Park-Bensonhurst-Midwood) told DOE officials at the hearing.

DOE officials defended the plan, saying that Seth Low IS is underutilized and has plenty of room to accommodate the charter school.

The Panel for Educational Policy is expected to vote on the plan at the end of the month.

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