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‘Costly’ charter school - Parents fear Hebrew school will drain district funding

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If a Hebrew-themed charter school opens in District 22, area schools will lose money, according to parents.

They say that’s because the city Department of Education’s (DOE) new Fair Student Funding system provides cash based on the number of students in a school. So if students enroll in the charter school rather than traditional public schools, those traditional schools will miss out on thousands of dollars.

“If you take 10 kids out of my school, my school loses for 10 kids,” Mary Nolan, who has three kids at P.S. 222 in Marine Park, said at a public hearing about the proposed charter school.

“Why should we give your school money when our schools are suffering?” said Tina Maffeo, who has a child at P.S. 52 in Sheepshead Bay.

The DOE and state Board of Regents will have the final say about whether a Hebrew-themed charter school will open in School District 22, which encompasses Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Manhattan Beach, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, Flatbush and Sheepshead Bay.

Speaking at the public hearing, which was held at P.S. 326 on Utica Avenue, the charter school’s lead applicant said she’s collected hundreds of signatures from community members in support of the school and held several informational sessions with local residents.

But parents at the hearing said they knew nothing about those sessions and questioned why Sara Berman would want to open a charter school in District 22, as charter schools are meant for struggling districts with poor student achievement.

As Christopher Spinelli, president of District 22’s Community Education Council (CEC), pointed out, District 22 is the only Brooklyn district that is not “in need of improvement.”

“If anything, we have the least number of children at risk for academic failure,” he said. “There’s a lot of animosity out there for a charter school that people feel is not needed.”

Berman agreed that District 22 is fairing well but said there are areas that “warrant alternativ­es.”

She also acknowledged that she was attracted by the district’s large population of Jewish residents, as she hopes “a chunk – five or 10 percent” of the school’s students would already be familiar with the Hebrew language.

That raised questions about whether the school would be targeted to one specific group.

“Parents that I’ve spoken to have expressed concern that it’s going to have a very narrow appeal. It’s not going to be diverse,” Spinelli said. “It’s going to be divisive.”

“If I had to choose a charter school for at-risk children, I would not choose a Hebrew school,” said Dorothy Giglio, whose youngest child is graduating from Madison High School. In multicultural communities, “None of their populations will be drawn to a Hebrew school.”

Berman said the informational sessions attracted parents of various religious and cultural backgrounds.

“We were required to submit signatures” from people in support of the school, Berman explained. “It was a very diverse group of signatures.”

Berman said that other language- and cultural-themed schools have diverse student bodies. For instance, African-Americans account for half of the students at the Hellenic Classical Charter School, a Greek-themed school in Park Slope.

“With the Hebrew language comes Hebrew culture but that is already taught…all over this country with public dollars,” Berman said.

She noted that there are several Hebrew-themed schools operating throughout the country and many other schools teaching the Hebrew language, including Stuyvesant High School.

“We are not doing in many ways anything new,” she said. “It’s already been taught.”

Comments about the Hebrew-themed charter school proposal can be emailed to charterschools@schools.nyc.gov.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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