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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED Aug 7, 2013 | UPDATED Aug 14, 2013 |By KAITLYN MEADE & JOSH ROGERS | Success Academy is hoping to open a new charter elementary school in Murry Bergtraum High School’s building next year, and opposition Downtown is beginning to form.
“We’re going to try to organize and fight it.” City Councilmember Margaret Chin told Downtown Express Aug. 2. Chin said she first heard a few weeks ago that Success was hoping to open a K- 4 in the building at 411 Pearl St. in Sept. 2014.
She said the clock is ticking for the Bloomberg administration, which has fueled the expansion of charters like Success Academy, founded by Eva Mosowitz, the former chairperson of the City Council’s Education Committee.
“The whole thing is she gets a lot of support from this administration,” Chin said. “So we’re going to push it back to the next administration [taking power in 2014] and it’ll be a little different scenario.”
Success Academy, which plans to open six new locations across the boroughs this fall, including one in Washington Irving High School near Union Square, hopes to open yet another elementary, this time in Lower Manhattan in 2014.
“A K – 4 in a high school,” Chin said incredulously, “that has so much… issues, you know, cops have to escort kids to subways.”
Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, an at-risk school with an overall D.O.E. grade of “D” for the 2011-12 school year, is already going through a downsizing process which will reduce its numbers by about 450 students by 2018.
However, a new school, Mather High School which focuses on building and craftsmanship in cooperation with the National Parks Service, is set to open in the building this fall. The co-location is projected to bring the total “utilization” of the school up to 88-92 percent between 2013 and 2017, according to the D.O.E.’s school portfolio report.
How that 8-12 percent of space would be able to accommodate a separate elementary school that would in all likelihood need entirely different facilities is not yet clear.
Chin did not know if the city had a plan yet as to how to expand Success Academy to a full elementary school after the school opened.
The announcement is not yet official but a meeting has already taken place with some of the Murry Bergtraum’s staff, to discuss a proposal to site a K-4 grade school on the large high school’s premises. according to Chin’s aide, Yume Kitasei, and another source who declined to be named.
While the school building does have “underutilized space” and the need for elementary school seats is a continual worry for Downtown parents, some question that installing an elementary school charter is the best option in that location.
“The D.O.E. is reserving space for a school that doesn’t exist,” said Shino Tanikawa, president of School District2’s Community Education Council.
There is currently no letter of intent on the SUNY Charter School Institute’s public archives to open a Success Academy in District 2, though six are being considered for 2014 in Districts 1, 3, 7, 12 or 30. SUNY is responsible for reviewing and approving the applications for New York State charter schools, though not for siting them. The final requests for proposals for the charters, however, are not due until September 2013.
The C.E.C. announced the plan’s existence at their Aug. 6 calendar meeting but was told to “stay tuned” for an Educational Impact Statement, probably in September that will provide more information on the logistics of collocating a school.
However, “By the time an E.I.S. comes out, it’s pretty much a done deal,” Tanikawa noted, as the city Panel for Education policy has a majority of its members appointed by the mayor and has a record of approving the overwhelming majority of proposals.
She also mentioned that the local C.E.C. had passed several resolutions pertaining to charter schools in the last few years, including one last year to put a moratorium on charter schools in the district “until we can figure out how to work with them,” she said.
Tanikawa said the most concerning thing about the wave of charter schools over the last decade has been a surprising disparity between co-located schools. “It has tended to segregate schools into students who are given amenities and students who have nothing,” she said.
While she acknowledged that she had not seen it herself, she said that colleagues had walked through co-located schools and could immediately tell which part of the building a school was occupied by the traditional schools and which part by the charter. “The level of inequity for students is really unhealthy,” she added.
One of the main arguments against charter schools is that they take away resources from traditional schools. Though charters often receive less government funding per student than traditional schools, they also receive more private support.
Success Academy and the Dept. of Education did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
The Academy, which started in Harlem, has fought to open schools all around the city including the Upper West Side and now Union Square. Critics, including the United Federation of Teachers, charge the school with taking over school buildings and pushing out low-performing and special ed students.
Moskowitz has vigorously disputed the accusations saying the school’s high performing students are a product of more teacher prep time, longer school days and small reading groups based on ability. The overall class size is usually larger than traditional public schools. In the past, the Academy has said the attrition rates are lower at Success than at traditional schools, and that statistically, special needs students are more likely to stay at the school than general education children.
Chin, who was recently endorsed by the U.F.T, said that she didn’t like charters’ “business model” approach to education.
“It doesn’t sound right,” she said. “It’s a private enterprise and it’s a public responsibility to really educate all the children.”