The State University of New York’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved Eva Moskowitz’s application to open a charter school on Manhattan’s Upper West Side this morning.
But the approval is unlikely to dampen any of the controversy surrounding the Upper West Success Academy, which Moskowitz’s charter network plans to open in the fall of 2011.
The fight over the school has centered on two questions: Is a new charter school the answer to the district’s overcrowding? And, if so, should that charter share another school’s building?
This is the first time Moskowitz’s charter chain plans to open a school in a neighborhood that is not predominantly low-income. Moskowitz has said she intends the school to provide an alternative to parents who have been crowded out of the neighborhood’s most popular schools or who cannot send their students to one of the city’s gifted programs.
Moskowitz has said she would like the charter to open in P.S. 145, which the city currently lists as underutilized. City officials have told the school they are likely to site the charter there, according to P.S. 145 parent leaders, though the city says no decision has been made.
Over the past few weeks, as Moskowitz has begun to advertise the school’s arrival to the neighborhood, opposition to the school has begun to grow, especially among P.S. 145 parents, neighborhood activists and politicians. Critics fear that, even in cases where the city considers a building underutilized, district schools will be squeezed if an expanding charter moves in.
“The community is behind improving our existing schools, not evicting them,” said Noah Gotbaum, the president of District 3’s parent council.
Gotbaum and others, including the neighborhood’s Councilwoman Gale Brewer, worry that if Upper West Success moves in, it could compromise an $11 million grant P.S. 145 and seven other neighborhood schools recently won to expand. The school is supposed to use the grant money to attract more students by improving its technology programs.
Brewer also said that neighborhood activists had wanted the city to move a small middle school, West Prep Academy, into the building to help relieve overcrowding in the district’s southern section, a plan that would also be jeopardized by the entrance of Upper West Success.
Under the revisions to state charter school law passed this year, charter applicants must demonstrate demand for the school in the neighborhoods where they want to open. Parents and activists who attended the SUNY trustee vote this morning said their voices were largely ignored in the approval process.
“There’s one fatal flaw in this overall process: nobody asked what the community wanted,” said Donna Nevel, a West Side parent and community activist.
But Moskowitz has insisted — and SUNY officials agreed — that demand exists for her school in the crowded neighborhood.
“We’ve spent a lot of time this summer talking to Upper West Side parents,” Moskowitz wrote in the New York Post this week. “Regardless of their politics or ideology, they almost all agree on one thing: If they can have the option of applying to a new, tuition-free school in their community with proven results, they want that option.”
Just before the trustees voted to approve the application, Pedro Noguera, the chair of SUNY’s charter school committee, expressed concern that because the Charter School Institute does not select sites for its schools, parent objections might be overlooked.
But when institute staff noted that the city would need to go through its own public approval process before siting Upper West Success in a district building, and that the institute also can veto a proposed charter school location, Noguera seemed satisfied.
“I think that hopefully should give those members of the community who are objecting to the location ample opportunity to be heard,” Noguera said.
The fight will likely now shift to the city’s public approval process for siting the school. If the city decides to give the charter school space at P.S. 145, it will hold a hearing at the school and the citywide school board will vote on the move.
Tina Crockett, president of the P.S. 145’s parent association, argued today that the co-location is not a foregone conclusion.
“We just think [Moskowitz is] unfairly jumping the gun to influence parents to attract them to her school,” Crockett said.
“Let us go through the process,” she said. “Don’t insinuate that it’s a done deal.”