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City argues Brooklyn charter school should be shut this year

City officials made the case today that a Brooklyn charter school should be the first to close before its charter expires.

East New York Preparatory Charter School was the subject of oral arguments today, as the school’s brand new board members tried to convince Department of Education officials to keep it open and officials from the charter school office argued for its closure.

Accused by both the city and state of egregious mismanagement, the school’s principal Sheila Joseph is alleged to have pushed students with low test scores out of the school, given herself a significant raise, and created an environment so unstable that Teach for America is threatening to pull all six of its members out of the building. Were the organization to severe all ties, the school would be left with two teachers.

At a meeting held at the school last month, parents argued for keeping the school open, saying the likelihood their children would get into other charter schools’ was low, and the district schools were a poor substitute. Speaking at Tweet Courthouse today, the DOE’s headquarters,

Yet DOE officials said they remain skeptical that the new board can overhaul the school by next September, saying that the school’s leadership, its teaching staff, and even its planned move to a new location are up in the air. The final decision about whether to close the school rests with Chancellor Joel Klein, who is likely to decide before April 1 — the deadline East New York Prep parents would have to meet in order to enter students in other charter schools’ lotteries.

Both sides’ arguments were heard by Deputy Chancellor John White, who will make a recommendation to Klein.

Problems at East New York Prep, which is authorized by the DOE, first came to city’s attention in February of last year, when a parent complained that her child was being demoted from the third to the second grade right before all third graders took a high stakes state test. DOE officials said that since then, the school’s board has made superficial changes, but the daily goings-on have hardly altered.

Last month, after the DOE threatened the school with closure, a teacher at the school notified the city that a new first grade student was told to transfer out because of poor test scores. The student has since returned to the school, but only after a district school principal told his parents that the charter school couldn’t force them out.

Mark Clarke, the principal of a Bronx middle school who recently became chair of East New York Prep’s board of trustees, said there was no concrete evidence the school had forced students to leave. “They left on their own,” he said.

Clarke said that in the last month, the board has removed and replaced three members who had conflicts of interest and is planning to vote on whether Sheila Joseph remains the school’s principal this Sunday.

“The board as it is currently constituted recognizes that there were some very egregious acts taken that should not have been taken,” Clarke said, noting that under the school’s new bylaws, the principal must get the board’s permission to hire and fire staff, parents now have a representative on the board, and Joseph’s salary has been reduced from $180,000 to its pre-raise level of $120,000.

“There’s no indication, despite the obvious good intentions of the new board, there has been change on the ground,” said Chad Pimentel, a lawyer for the charter school office. “That’s too much risk to ask the charter school office to bear.”

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