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De Blasio's approval of Bensonhurst charter schools angers pols, parents

Seth Low Intermediate School will share space with a Success Academy Charter School starting in September. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Mayor Bill de Blasio overruled plans for three charter schools to share space with regular public schools that had been previously approved by his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, but in his decision, announced on Feb. 27, he did leave proposals involving two Bensonhurst schools in place.

He also blocked plans for six traditional public schools to co-locate inside existing schools.

The mayor's move made the neighborhood’s elected officials and educational leaders livid.

A plan to have a Success Academy Charter school share space with Seth Low Intermediate School (IS 96), at 99 Ave. P, and a plan for another charter school, Coney Island Prep, to share space with Joseph Cavallaro Intermediate School (IS 281), at 8787 24th Ave., were left intact by the mayor when he announced the results of his review of dozens of proposals that Bloomberg had approved.

Upset with de Blasio's decision, the Community Education Council (CEC) of School District 21, led by President Heather Fiorica, is organizing a protest rally to take place in front of Seth Low IS on Friday, March 7, at 2:30 p.m., at dismissal time.

The proposal to have a regular public school and a charter school share space is called a co-location. Under the plan, the two co-locations involving Seth Low IS and Cavallaro IS will start in September.

Councilman David Greenfield (D-Borough Park-Midwood-Bensonhurst), who represents the area around Seth Low IS, said he and his colleagues will fight the co-location decision “tooth and nail.”

Greenfield charged that the co-location will hurt the students and teachers at Seth Low IS by forcing them to share space with another school. “This proposal does not take into account the students' needs or the impact this will clearly have on this important school,” he said.

Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-parts of Bensonhurst) and Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Coney Island-Gravesend-Bensonhurst) both represent parts of the community Cavallaro IS serves. Both expressed shock and disappointment at the decision to allow the co-location plan at that school to move forward.

If Cavallaro is forced to share its building with another school, the result will be severely overcrowded classrooms, strained resources and a negative impact on the education of children, Gentile and Treyger charged.

“I’ve said repeatedly that Cavallaro is already busting at the seams and there is no need for an elementary school in this area. However, there is an overwhelming need for middle school seats,” Gentile said.

“The co-location of Cavallaro is simply not feasible. Do the math,” Treyger said. “Cavallaro does not have the space to accommodate another school. It will be a detriment to Cavallaro and the incoming charter school that will create an unsafe environment for our children."

The co-location plans have been the subject of numerous petition drives and protest rallies led by the CEC of School District 21 over the past several months.

While both Seth Low IS and Cavallaro IS are located within School District 21, several elementary schools in neighboring School District 20 serve as feeder schools to the two intermediate schools. Hundreds of youngsters each year graduate from District 20 elementary schools and then attend Seth Low IS or Cavallaro IS.

The CEC of School District 20, led by President Laurie Windsor, issued a statement blasting de Blasio’s final approval of the co-locations.

“Many of us who are part of the public school system were hopeful that with a new administration, we'd see a real, meaningful change that responded to the needs of the community. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case, as both IS 96 and IS 281 are still slated for charter co-locations in September 2014,” the statement read.

The CEC members charge that the immediate vicinity area around Seth Low IS, which contains another school, the Lucretia Marcigliano Educational Campus, at 50 Ave. P, will become too jammed and result in overcrowded streets as thousands of students cross the streets to get to and from their schools each day.

“In addition, the Lucretia Marcigliano campus is 400 feet away from IS 96, which will house 1,100 students. I.S. 96 will have 600 students and the charter will add another 600. Not counting staff from any of the schools, this brings the total number of elementary and middle school students to 2400 – all within a one-block segment on Avenue P,” the CEC statement read.

Large numbers of students crossing the street and speeding drivers “are the ingredients for a tragedy,” CEC members charged.

In a statement, the mayor said he gave careful consideration to each co-location proposal.

"We made clear from the outset we would carefully review all of the proposals rushed through in the waning days of the past administration. And today, we are taking the best possible path forward, rejecting those proposals that do not meet our values, and working with school communities on those proposals that can be implemented responsibly," he stated.

Jacob Mnookin, executive director of Coney Island Prep, responded to the claims that Cavallaro doesn't have enough space to accomodate his school by pointing out that the co-location proposal passed muster with two different mayors.

"Two different administrations looked at the facts and two different administrations concluded that there is sufficient space and that this is a good proposal," he told the Brooklyn Eagle.

The New York Times reported that although de Blasio was an outspoken critic of charter schools sharing space with public schools, he left most of the charter school plans from the Bloomberg Administration intact.

Charter schools are public schools but are run by nonprofit groups. The most famous group is the Success Academy chain of schools, headed by former councilwoman Eva Moskowitz.

There are currently 183 charter schools in New York City, serving about 70,000 children, The Times reported.

***UPDATED***

Article was updated to include response from Coney Island Prep executive director, and to correct the number of charter schools affected.

March 3, 2014 - 12:30pm


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