Hundreds turn out for public hearing
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A plan hatched by the Department of Education (DOE) to put a Success Academy charter school inside Seth Low Intermediate School in Bensonhurst and have the two schools co-exist in the same building was met with vociferous opposition by parents, teachers and elected officials who spoke at out a raucous public hearing on Sept. 30.
Opponents charged that the charter school will take away much-needed classroom space from Seth Low students and prevent the school from expanding its enrichment programs in the arts. Parents also expressed concern that the presence of the charter school would set up a class system in which the charter school’s students would be given the best of everything, including iPads, while their Seth Low counterparts are left to languish in overcrowded classrooms with five-year-old textbooks.
“Why put a charter school in a neighborhood that didn’t want one? It doesn’t make any sense,” Councilman David Greenfield (D-Borough Park-Bensonhurst-Midwood) charged.
“There is no reason to put a charter school here. It’s wrong and it’s disrespectful. It’s a big city. Find another neighborhood that wants a charter school,” Greenfield angrily told DOE officials at the hearing.
Seth Low students also spoke out against the plan. “I don’t want the school to be crowded,” Andres Cortez, a sixth grader, said. “Please don’t let this happen to our school,” he said.
Despite pleas from DOE officials to keep quiet so that speakers could be heard, audience members interrupted the hearing several time to stand and cheer for speakers with whom they agreed.
At issue is a plan by DOE to set aside space inside Seth Low IS to accommodate the Success Academy, a charter school, starting in September of 2014. Success Academy will educate children from kindergarten through fourth grade and will accept students via a lottery system, similar to the enrollment process at other charter schools.
The proposal is contingent upon Success Academy being granted a charter by the State University of New York (SUNY).
Opponents said it isn’t fair to have a charter school, which can cherry pick to find the best students, and a regular public school, which under law has to accept all children, in the same building. “They don’t follow the same rules as we do,” said Corinne Kaufman, a math teacher.
The DOE plan, which is expected to win final approval when the city’s Panel for Educational Policy votes on the proposal on Oct. 30, does not contain details as to how space will be divided between the two schools. For example, it’s unclear whether Success Academy will take up an entire floor in the building, or of it will be scattered throughout the building.
The new school will be part of the Success Academy chain of charter schools founded by former councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. To date, Moskowitz has opened more than a dozen charter schools around New York City, including several in Brooklyn. Prospect Heights, Bed-Sty, Cobble Hill, Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Fort Greene are all communities that have Success Academy schools.
Prior to the start of the public hearing, which took place at Seth Low IS, at 99 Avenue P, dozens of parents, teachers, and students held a protest rally outside the school. Holding signs reading “Stop the invasion. Say no to lo-location,” and “Save Seth Low,” the protesters marched in a circle in front of the school building.
“We’re hoping that our voices are heard,” said Heather Ann Fiorica, president of the Community Education Council of School District 21. Seth Low is a District 21 school.
In his testimony at the public hearing, Assemblyman Bill Colton (D-Gravesend-parts of Bensonhurst) wondered aloud why DOE was in such a hurry to move the plan forward, given the fact that SUNY hasn’t even granted the charter yet. “What’s the rush?” he asked.
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-parts of Bensonhurst) also questioned the timing. “It’s outrageous that DOE, with only three months to go, would think of doing something like this,” he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, said, noting that the mayoral election will likely bring a new chancellor. “This is a decision a new chancellor and a new administration should make,” he said.
Gentile said the proposal has ramifications beyond District 21. Fifty percent of Seth Low’s student population comes from elementary schools in neighboring District 20, he said. If Seth Low becomes overcrowded, it would eliminate an intermediate school option for those students, he said.
Elected officials were universal in their opposition to the plan.
Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D-Dyker Heights-parts of Bensonhurst) said parents have a right to be concerned about a class system. “I’ve seen instances where they paint a charter school portion of the building and leave the public school part alone,” he said.
Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny (D-Coney Island-Bay Ridge) said it’s a mistake to co-locate an elementary school and a middle school. “The educational and safety needs of five-year-olds differ greatly from that of 13-year-olds,” he said in his submitted written testimony.
Councilman Domenic Recchia (D-Coney Island-Gravesend-Bensonhurst) threatened to file a lawsuit to stop the plan. “We’ll take this to court if we have to,” he shouted.
In its proposal, the DOE claims that Seth Low IS has more than enough room to accommodate its students and youngsters from the Success Academy. According to estimates, even after Success Academy is fully incorporated into the Seth Low building, the building will still be under 100 percent in terms of utilization.
The proposal noted that Success Academy students are not taking over Seth Low en masse. Instead, students will be incorporated into the school one grade at a time, starting with a single kindergarten class in the fall of 2014. A new grade will be added each year until the 2018-2019 school year when all of the grades, from kindergarten through fourth, will be in place.