Public Advocate and Mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio said Monday that dangerous PCB-containing lighting fixtures were removed from the politically-connected Success Academy Charter School in Cobble Hill – but not from the three regular public schools that share the same building.
De Blasio and parents at a press conference at DOE headquarters at Tweed said the inequities go beyond PCB removal. Success Academy Cobble Hill, which moved into 284 Baltic Street in September with the Brooklyn School for Global Studies, the School for International Studies and P.S. 368K (a special-education program), has been transformed “into a modern and sleek school, while the three public schools have languished.”
“This is worse than unfair. Time and time again, we’ve seen a Tale of Two Cities, with resources lavished on Success Academy while traditional public schools in the same building lacked the most basic necessities. In the case of Cobble Hill, we could have inequities that affect the very health and safety of children,” de Blasio said. He called on the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the NYC School District to investigate.
“Before opening in September, Success Academy Cobble Hill side got a new paint job, asbestos floor tiles were removed, new bathrooms outfitted, and new doors, carpeting, and new furniture installed,” Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, said in a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
State law requires DOE to “spend the same amount on each non-charter public school” co-located with a public school “within three months” of the charter school improvements.”
DOE spokesperson Marge Feinberg told the Brooklyn Eagle on Tuesday that the city spent just as much money – if not more -- on the three other schools in the building.
“There was approximately $350,000 in work for the charter and it was matched by more than $2 million in improvements for the other schools, including a large electrical upgrade and room conversions. We not only met but exceeded compliance,” she said.
“Success Academy replaced the [PCB-containing] lighting in the hallway prior to moving in. They did not replace lighting in the classrooms,” she said, adding that lighting fixtures in the entire building were already “scheduled to be replaced this summer.”
Feinberg said that the city spent more than a million dollars creating high school locker rooms and a dance and fitness center; almost $800,000 creating and upgrading classrooms for students with disabilities; and about $80,000 “on new wiring and outlets for air conditioning units when the high school moved to another floor. We gutted a large area and created classrooms with new lighting for District 75.”
According to the New York Daily News, Success Academy spent another $340,000 of its own.
Parents told the News that the money spent by DOE didn’t benefit their schools. “If they spent all that money, why are there still holes in the ceiling of the locker room?” asked Pamela Bynoe, president of the Global parents Association. “Nothing was done to repair the shower rooms that haven’t worked for years or the fetid bathrooms that adjoin the locker rooms.”
Success Academy Cobble Hill –- part of an aggressively-growing chain headed by ex-councilwoman Eva Moskowitz -- has the backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and financial support from hedge fund founders and managers like Joel Greenblatt of Gotham Capital, and John Petry of Sessa Capital.
School co-locations associated with Success Academy remain divisive, de Blasio said, and “allegations over fiscal and enrollment inequities persist.”
Success Academy moved into the Cobble Hill location after months of vocal protests from local residents who feared their children’s schools would lose space and services to the charter.
The practice of “co-locating” new schools with already existing schools in the same building –heavily employed by the Bloomberg administration – has often been a source of disruption and tension in the city’s school system. Many parents say the new schools take away resources like libraries, science rooms and gyms from existing schools in the building.
“Why should charter schools get jumped to the front of the line and our public schools be left behind when it comes to the removal of light fixtures leaking toxic PCBs?” Natasha Capers, parent leader with New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, said in a statement.
Democratic Mayoral candidates de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, Bill Thompson have all said that Mayor Bloomberg should not be allowed to close or co-locate any schools in its last year. A bill proposed in the State Senate would bar school closures into the next mayor’s term, according to the Gotham Schools’ website.
As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle has reported, lighting ballasts and caulking installed between 1950 and 1978 contain the now-banned PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), which have been linked to cancer as well as endocrine, reproductive and immune disorders. Exposure in the womb has also been linked to learning disorders.
Parent groups, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have been warning for years that prolonged exposure to PCBs could result in long-term harm to students and teachers.
Figures from the New York City School Construction Authority show that the majority of the city’s schools — including roughly 70 percent of schools in Brooklyn — contain PCBs.
About half of the city's contaminated schools are in Brooklyn, including P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights; P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights; P.S. 15 in Red Hook; Arts & Letters in Fort Greene; P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill; I.S. 98 Bay Academy in Bay Ridge; M.S. 51 in Park Slope; Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies; Khalil Gibran International Academy and hundreds more.
Two years ago the city embarked on a 10-year plan to remove the contaminated fixtures, a timeline called too long by child advocates.
Last November, City Comptroller John C. Liu called for the issuance of special bonds to accelerate the fixture’s removal.