UPDATE: Parents, Students and Community Not Sure They Have Real Voice in School Co-Location Process

UPDATE: Anyone who fought against the recent round of co-locations can now rest assured that they never had a say in yesterday's Panel on Educational Policy's vote.

The PEP voted late last night to approve every co-location proposal up for consideration. The approvals came after hours of impassioned pleas to the panel from members of the public both against and in favor of the proposed co-locations.

Everyone in attendance should demand that the DOE reimburse them for five hours spent at a meeting that essentially amounted to an open-mic therapy session at best.

Students from transfer high school Brownsville Academy, where the PEP ultimately voted to approve the co-location of a Success Academy Charter School, stayed until 11 p.m. pleading with the panel to reconsider.They were trying to figure out why the panel would potentially disrupt one of the city's rare high-performing transfer high schools to co-locate an elementary school.

Stakeholders from P.S. 138 in Brooklyn, which has earned A grades year after year on annual progress reports, were at the meeting well past 10 p.m. trying to convince the panel to preserve the current structure of the thriving school.

The DOE should've just done everyone a favor and explained that the very structure of the PEP makes it clear that the co-locations were going to be approved.

"As we exist as far as the current school structure is concerned we are very comfortable with Success, Excellence or any other charter school, or district school co-locating in a building," NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said at yesterdays meeting. "We are closely working with [Success Academy] and other charter [operators], if there's available space, to have them co-located in that space."

Of the 13-member panel, eight are selected by the mayor while one member is selected by each of the city's five borough presidents. The mayor has the power to add and remove appointees at his discretion -- virtual control over the panel other words.

So, whenever Walcott, the man whom Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose to run city schools, says that the DOE is actively looking to co-locate schools, then a co-location vote by the mayor's PEP is going to go in accordance with the mayor's agenda.

Last night's meeting reaffirmed the fact that mayoral control over education ultimately gives the mayor the last say on education policy in this city -- whether for the better or for the worse is only a matter of opinion.

Students, parents and the surrounding community have made it clear that they don't want the New York City Department of Education to co-locate a new school alongside Dr. Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts in Brooklyn.

But, they're unclear whether they possess the power to stop it from happening.

The City's Panel on Educational Policy is set to rule on proposed co-locations around the city later today. Those looking to prevent co-location at their community school aren't sure whether they've had much say in the matter.

"I honestly I feel like the decision might already be made. I've attended as many meetings as I could," Anthonine Fiote, a parent of two middle school students at Susan McKinney, tells the Voice. "This school is really filled with talented kids who want to take [their craft] to the next level. If you take that away from them, I just feel like that's wrong."

Susan McKinney and the District 75 special-needs inclusion program, P.S. 395K, are situated inside DOE building K265 in Fort Greene. The building is one of six across the city up for co-location with a new chapter of the Success Academy Charter School at today's vote.

Despite earning a B grade on the City's annual progress report-card, the DOE identified the building as a site for co-location -- as it estimates that the building is only being utilized at about 45 percent of its full capacity.

"There is rabid demand for these schools," Stephan Friedman, a spokesman for Success Academy, tells the Voice. "If you have a school that's 55 percent empty, and [Success Academy has] 218 applications for 200 seats four months early, should those parents be told no?"

If approved, Success Academy Charter School Brooklyn 5 will open up next September with an inaugural class of 200 kindergarteners and first-graders -- with roughly 434-556 elementary school students by the time the academy reaches full capacity at the start of the 2017-2018 school year.

Parents of students who attend the 6th-12th grade arts school, which is projected to serve about 470 students next year, have expressed concerns that the artistic development of their kids would be stunted by the new school -- citing Success Academy's impending utilization of the school's main arts spaces on the building's third floor.

"The DOE understands that McKinney students and parents and the community in general are enthusiastic about the arts programming offered at the school," the DOE said in its legally mandated analysis of public comments released yesterday -- the day before the vote. "The DOE does not believe the proposal will diminish the arts programming or the availability of arts programming at the school by proposing to co-locate."

See Also: -Debate Over Won't Back Down Shines Light on City's Brewing Education Battle -City Council Presses Dept. of Education Officials on Controversial Co-Location Policy -Parents of Special Needs Children Fed Up With DOE's Flawed School Bus Service - Eva Moskowitz Scores Successes at Raucous School Meeting Last Night -Class Struggles at a Bronx Charter School

According to its analysis of public comments, the DOE has received 151 letters from Susan McKinney stakeholders who've spoken out against co-location. The analysis attempts to assuage and correct the concerns raised and statements made by stakeholders who attended last week's hearing, past rallies and who wrote letters to the DOE.

The DOE didn't allow stakeholders much time to respond or further investigate those assurances and corrections. But, state law only requires that an analysis of public comments be submitted 24 hours in advance of the vote -- and that's precisely when the DOE put it up.


The DOE insists that it gives weight to the community voices.

"We encourage community members to voice their opinions at public hearings that take place in advance of the Panel for Educational Policy's votes on phase-outs and colocations," the DOE said in a statement released to the Voice. "These hearings are integral components of the PEP's decision-making process, and we value all of the input we receive from parents and communities around the City."

Councilwoman Letitia James, who represents District 13 where Susan McKinney is located, has a different take on the proposal process leading up to today's vote.

"It's a charade. It's a farce. The decision has already been made," James tells the Voice. "All I wanted was to engage in an honest and open discussion with the Department of Education, and I've been denied that [and] the community [has been as well]."

Approval of today's six proposed Success Academy co-locations would bring the charter school to a total of 20 locations across the city. James believes that the push to expand Success Academy's reach is a part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's larger agenda for the city's educational landscape.

"This is a rush to beat the clock, and the clock is winding down on this administration. This is an attempt to get as many in as possible because we all recognize that change is coming, reform is coming to mayoral control," James said. "This is not in the best interest of children. This is in the best interest of operators of charter schools who are viewing this primarily from the viewpoint of what real estate is available in the city of New York."

Friedman noted that even though the majority of co-locations involve new district schools, charter schools seem to receive the blunt of the stigma when it comes to co-locations.

"It seems that when charter schools come in, [there's] more difficulty and a bit more controversy," Friedman said. "But again, the idea of 55 percent of seats staying empty , when you have parents knocking down the door to come to Success Academy, it makes no sense to me...There's enough capacity in these schools for everybody to share space together."

Fiote says that while she's not against charter schools, she does have a problem with the way Success Academy has approached the potential co-location of the building.

"For the record, I am not against charter schools. I am a parent myself, and I am pro-choice, and I believe every parent has a right to choose where their kids go to school what level of education [they receive]," Fiote said. "I am against the way [Success] bullied [its] way into these schools. In order for success Academy to succeed, our school has to die."

With the impending vote on the co-location set for 6 p.m., the DOE and Friedman insist that Susan McKinney will not suffer from the potential co-location.

"Success is a good neighbor," Friedman said. "We're interested in the success of everybody in the school and we're going to be a good partner -- cooperating with other schools when we come in."

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