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Protesters call for independent review of charter siting practices

A group of parents, advocates and elected officials today asked the city to end its practice of placing charter schools in district school buildings until an outside agency evaluates the impact of the shared space arrangements.

Standing on the steps of City Hall, protesters argued that the city’s policy unfairly weakens district schools that are forced to give up needed classroom space to make way for growing charters and sometimes pits poor, minority parents against one another.

Protesters erected a small school-shaped tent, emblazoned with a sign reading, “Tweed is at 75 percent capacity,” and tried to carry it into City Hall (they were stopped by security officers). Organizers originally planned to “co-locate” the tent school in Tweed Courthouse, where the DOE is headquartered, but moved to the covered steps of City Hall due to bad weather.

Public hearings over charter school sitings have devolved into shouting matches all school year, and some observers speculate that public anger over the way the city places charters is a major political obstacle to the passage of a charter school cap lift in Albany.

Charter schools are not legally guaranteed public facilities space under New York State law, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who strongly supports the growth of charters, has directed the Department of Education to provide space for the schools in city-owned buildings. City officials argue that charters are only given space in district school buildings when there is room available for both schools to operate.

But critics charge that the city’s calculus for determining how much space in a building is available for a new school is often riddled with errors and fails to reflect the way schools actually use space like libraries and resource rooms.

At the protest, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio invoked last year’s battle over mayoral control, arguing that city’s practice goes against the legislature’s intent to increase parental involvement and use an independent body to check the DOE’s numbers.

“We have parent input in name only,” de Blasio said.

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