Thursday, July 30, 2009

Charter School Proposal Gets Tepid Reception

Applicant Fails to Show Up for Public Hearing

By Conor Greene

A group is seeking permission to establish a charter school within District 24, but members of the local Community Educational Council and residents were not happy when representatives failed to show up for a scheduled hearing on the plan.

City Academy of Science Charter School has filed an application with the state and city to open a college preparatory-level school initially serving students in grades 7 to 9 before expanding to 12th grade. The group was supposed to present details about the plan at a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday night, but representatives skipped the scheduled meeting. That left council members and residents with outstanding questions, including where the school would be located.

The phone number listed on the application for the group’s contact, Furkan Kosar, has been disconnected. According to Superintendent Catherine Powis’ executive summary of the application, the group expects first-year expenses of about $2.8 million, against projected revenues of about $2.6 million. The shortfall is expected to be made up by private donations or loans of $200,000 from an “unspecified source.” It isn’t clear how much of the group’s revenues would come through public funding.

However, the executive summary contains few details about proposed locations, which council members said is unknown to them at this point. “The one question I did ask is where [it would be located],” said Powis. “I know that’s on the minds of everyone in the district.” The summary only says that the group is looking into properties in Maspeth, Glendale and Long Island City.

The idea of placing another school in Maspeth did not go over well with several residents who were among the sparse crowd at PS 58, especially since the city is moving ahead with a 1,100 seat high school just blocks from two existing schools. “The mere fact that Maspeth was even mentioned as a possible location for the school is absolutely ridiculous,” said Manny Caruana, predicting community backlash if that happens.

However, as the minutes ticked by, it became clear the applicants were not going to show up, which CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni called “a little arrogant.” He added: “They want to put a school in our community without any input. It’s just not something I’m for.”

Comaianni suggested the council pass a resolution stating that the project should not go forward because it is “not in the best interests of public students” in District 24 and because the group’s representatives didn’t show up. Eventually, the council agreed to table the resolution until its next meeting, when it could meet in an official capacity depending on what is decided in Albany.

However, the resolution might be moot by then. Once a group files an application with the DOE for a charter school, a thirty-day window begins in which a public hearing must be held. Since the deadline to file is June 30, it is likely the group’s allotted time to hold a hearing is about to expire. A group must provide seven days notice prior to a hearing, making it impossible for a new hearing to be scheduled within the 30 days. If you don’t meet this requirement, you have to wait 12months to continue the process.

The lack of public notice and input was a major focus of the council’s discussion, and Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the borough’s representative on the Panel for Educational Policy, agrees that changes are needed in the state’s law governing charter approvals. He suggest moving the filing deadline to April 15 since many residents are away during summer months and requiring two public hearings within 45 days that are advertised in local newspapers. The groups should also be required to meet with the area’s local and state representatives, argues Fedkowskyj.

“I firmly believe that in order for the current charter school process to work, the suggested changes need to be implemented. We need a completely transparent process in place,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We know the mayor and [Chancellor Joel] Klein tout the successes of charter schools all the time and that they want to create more of them, but they shouldn’t do it at the expense of our overcrowded traditional public schools.”

Due to the situation in Albany, the council’s meeting was held on an informal basis so that residents continue to have an outlet to discuss issues within district schools, explained Comaianni. The public hearing regarding the charter school would have been run by Powis since the council doesn’t currently hold any actual powers.

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