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National school building group criticizes NYC charter space plan

The head of a national advocacy group for improving school facilities is warning that a Brooklyn school building cannot support a charter school expansion plan that the citywide school board approved last night.

Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century Schools Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit that helps both district and charter schools plan their building space, composed a report on how space is used at Brooklyn’s P.S. 15. The elementary school shares space with PAVE Academy Charter School, which will expand in the building while it awaits construction of its own private building. Filardo’s report, prepared at the request of New York’s Campaign for Fiscal Equity, was submitted as testimony against the city’s plan at last night’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting.

“My overall impression is that even following the most optimal collaborative planning process and support from [the Department of Education], it will not be possible for PS 15 to support the continued expansion of PAVE per the DOE proposal,” Filardo writes.

At the most, Filardo estimates that P.S. 15 could give up one full classroom and one half-sized classroom without harm. But the city’s plan requires much more: it will allocate an additional five full-size classrooms and three resource rooms to PAVE over the next three years.

In its plan, the DOE notes that P.S. 15 currently uses more space than is generally allocated to a school of its size by citywide standards. The plan states that the school will have to re-located its enrichment programs and supplemental services as PAVE expands, though the city says the impact on those programs will be “not significant.” Filardo’s report agrees that the space used for student support services “may be a little on the high side.” But she also notes that in other areas, such as resource rooms, P.S. 15 uses less than the DOE’s minimum recommended allotments for space.

The space-sharing agreement between P.S. 15 and PAVE has become the center of a heated battle over whether expansion of charter schools in city buildings harms the district schools that share those buildings. The PEP originally approved the DOE’s plan for PAVE in January, but the city put the proposal to a re-vote last night after P.S. 15 parents appealed to the state education commissioner to halt the plan. The parents argue that the city has not provided adequate information about how the expansion plan would affect the quality of education at the schools. The commissioner has not yet ruled on the appeal.

That criticism was echoed at last night’s PEP meeting, as critics charged DOE officials with failing to adequately plan the expansion.

“It’s very clear from the [Educational Impact Statement] that you haven’t figured out where the kids are going to go,” said Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan Borough President’s appointee, a prominent critic of the city’s charter siting policies.

Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm maintained the city’s plan is sound. “We are quite comfortable there is sufficient space in this building,” Grimm said.