Members of District 20’s Community Education Council (CEC) have given thumbs down to a proposed charter school.
The CEC issued its recommendation last week, days after a contentious public hearing during which numerous people spoke out against the Brooklyn Dreams Charter School. The proposal is currently under review by the city’s Department of Education (DOE) and the state Board of Regents.
Parents and educators had assailed the proposal in large part because of concerns over separation of church and state. As previously reported, the school’s board of directors would include employees of local Catholic schools. Also, it has been reported that the for-profit organization that would manage the school, National Heritage Academies, has taught creationism as a scientific theory.
However, the school’s proponents see it otherwise. “It is not a private school. It is not a Catholic school. It is truly a public school,” applicant William Girasole had said during the public hearing on the enterprise.
Nonetheless, “Besides the charter school team, I have yet to meet anyone in favor,” noted Laurie Windsor, the CEC’s president.
The CEC – which met at District 20’s Bay Ridge headquarters, 415 89th Street – based its advice on the fact that charter schools are generally opened where the educational challenge is greatest; that is not the case in District 20 where students consistently perform above the city average. The charter school is “unnecessary in District 20,” the group wrote.
As CEC First Vice President Mark Bramante said during the group’s deliberations, “The charter school concept looks to help struggling students in struggling districts. This is not a struggling district. Aren’t these resources that should be spent elsewhere?”
And, remarked CEC member Stanley Ng, since charter schools must perform better than the districts in which they are situated, any charter school in District 20 would “compete” with local public schools. “They’re almost going to have to take away the top performing students,” he pointed out.
“What we need is more seats in the district to enable us to continue to provide the children… with the exemplary education they are receiving already,” the CEC wrote. The shortage of space, they stressed, was a factor. “It is clear that any competition for space in District 20 will inevitably hurt the ability of the DOE to find space to accommodate our seating needs.”
“We know they have the best interest of the community at heart, but is this the best way to do it?” Bramante asked.
The organization that would run the school was also an issue, said the CEC, because of its for-profit status, and also because, “Our research has indicated that NHA has a less than stellar record with its only school in Brooklyn, the Excelsior Academy,” which, they said, has had three principals in three years, and whose population does not appear to mirror the larger district
“Recent statistics show that 31% of the Excelsior Academy student population is eligible for free lunch,” they said, compared to 82% of the district’s student body, something, they contend, that, “Indicates to us that the school is not helping the children most at risk.”
Other issues the CEC brought up include the fact that the original application cited District 21. While, they said, charter school representatives had called that a mistake, they noted, “This appears to us as a classic ‘bait and switch.’”
“District 20 never knew about it,” stressed Windsor.
Also, CEC members said they were concerned about one rationale cited in the application – the fact that so many Catholic schools have been closing. “They say they are going to target English Language Learners,” Windsor noted, “but, in the meantime, they are going to fill the gap from Catholic schools.”
Any new school, the CEC said, should be “contemplated for any and all students in District 20, and especially for those in our district in most need,” such as ELLs. “It is our belief that the ELLs do not come from shuttered parochial schools.”
Finally, the CEC questioned a statement made by the school’s proponents, that admission would be on a “first come-first served basis. We… firmly believe that, even if legal, this type of admissions policy will only serve to allow the board to cherry pick its students and not to serve the entire community.”
City Councilmember Vincent Gentile also opposes the school In a letter to the DOE, he contended that, rather than raising the standard of education delivered in District 20, the charter school, “May divert funding that could be more efficiently and effectively used by the existing district schools.”
Gentile also said that he was afraid that such a charter school, “May be the death knell for our remaining parochial schools, many of which are struggling with dwindling enrollments.”
Assemblymember Peter Abbate said he was against the proposal during the CEC’s deliberations. “I’m in opposition to it,” he told the group, “for the simple reason that it doesn’t help our students.”
State Senator Marty Golden, “Supports the opening of a charter school in School District 20 and has sent a letter of support,” said his spokesperson, John Quaglione.