By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
COBBLE HILL – A group of parents in Brooklyn’s District 15 filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging former Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz’s plans to co-locate one of her Success Academy charter schools in a Cobble Hill school building.
The complex at 184 Baltic St. near Court Street presently houses three public schools: Brooklyn School for Global Studies, School for International Studies and P.S. 368 for special education children.
At a raucous and heavily policed meeting in December, the Mayor’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) voted to approve the co-location. The decision was met with catcalls and cries of “Shame!” from the sign-waving crowd.
According to the Department of Education (DOE), once the charter school is functioning at its full capacity, the building will be operating at 108 percent of its building utilization capacity.
Not all of the nine Success Academy charter schools have a track record, but those that do generally do well on standardized tests.
Charter Granted for Districts 13 or 14
According to a statement by the plaintiffs, who are being represented by the public interest law firm Advocates for Justice, the lawsuit challenges the legitimacy of the plan to open the school in District 15. The SUNY Board of Trustees, which grants the charters allowing charter schools to open, authorized the Success Academy to open a school in either District 13 or District 14, not in District 15, where the building (called K293) is located.
Arthur Z. Schwartz, the lead lawyer on the case, said, “This fight is not a fight about charter schools. It is about charter schools living by the rules. And we believe that the state legislature intended charter schools to be rooted in local communities, and that they be interactive with those communities in developing their programs. That is why the law requires that charters be issued in specific school districts.
“Brooklyn Success 3, with the support of the Department of Education and, unfortunately, the SUNY Trustees, is ignoring that rule. They are trying to set up in a district which is not in their charter, without appropriate community input, and, in fact, in the face of enormous antipathy. We don’t think that the courts will allow it.”
Success Academy said it would target “at-risk” children prior to receiving its charter, but since then has changed its focus to more affluent – and higher achieving – children in Brownstone Brooklyn. Affluent neighborhoods have been flooded with colorful brochures, brownstone homes have received mailings, and bus stops in Brooklyn Heights carry Success Academy advertising.
Jackie Johnson, a parent at P.S. 32, said in an e-mailed statement, “The Success Charter Network has only reached out to middle- and upper-middle-class families in Bococa, and she [Eva Moskowitz] has openly stated that her purpose is to give middle-class families more choices.”
The schools presently in the building, Johnson said, already “serve the needy.”
CEC-15 Troubled by ‘Bait and Switch’
Community Education District 15 (CEC-15) has not yet joined in the lawsuit – but hasn’t ruled it out, said Jim Devor, president of CEC-15. Devor said that since he had only “a very brief opportunity” to review an early draft of the suit, he couldn’t comment on its particulars.
“At the same time, we share the Petitioners' opposition to the co-location of Brooklyn Success Academy 3 in the K293 building. In particular, we are especially troubled by the ‘bait and switch’ of chartering the school in Districts 13 and/or 14 with a self described mission of targeting ‘at risk children’ and then locating the school in Brownstone Brooklyn and limiting its recruitment to ‘middle class’ families.
“Accordingly, we do not rule out our members eventually joining the lawsuit or even initiating our own.”
DOE’s Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said in November that enrollment at the new Success Academy would ultimately increase to somewhere between 500 and 640 students ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade. A planned fifth will not fit into the building.
Moskowitz, who heads nine charter schools, fought off a lawsuit in 2011 before she successfully opened Upper West Success in Manhattan.