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City tells charter applicants to file again with the state

The city has told nearly 20 prospective charter school leaders who originally asked the city for charters that they need to start the process over with the state.

The move begins to fill in the hazy picture of how the city’s role in granting and overseeing charters is changing as a result of charter school legislation passed in May. It suggests that the city might be losing some of its autonomy in authorizing charters, but still plans to stay involved in the chartering process.

The new law doubled the number of charters allowed in the state. It also created some confusion over just who gets to authorize new charters. Under the old law, the city was one of three authorizers. But the new legislation names only the Board of Regents and the State University of New York as authorizers. Yet it also mentions the chancellor as a “charter entity,” without making clear what that means.

Caught in the middle of the confusion were 19 charter school applicants who submitted their applications to the city in early May, just weeks before Albany overhauled the law and after the city had already hit its charter cap.

For months, nothing appeared to change for them. Patricia Soussloff, who is applying to open the Neighborhood Charter School of Harlem, said city officials interviewed her team and passed the school on to subsequent rounds of review.

But this week, she and other applicants learned about one big change: that they would have to re-do their applications. The chief academic officer of the city charter schools office, Aaron Listhaus, told applicants in an email that they must submit their applications to the Board of Regents using the Regents’ new application system.

“The amendments to the charter law are clear that the support of the local district must be a strong factor in the Regents’ authorizing decisions and with the Chancellor’s backing, your application will receive favorable consideration from the Regents,” Listhaus told the applicants in the email.

The city submitted a letter of intent (pdf) to the state saying it would apply for charters for 15 of the 19 applicant schools on their behalf.

Applicants must now submit an initial document for their application by Monday; the full applications are due three weeks later. Because the applicants had already completed an original charter application for the city, much of their last-minute work is a matter of reformatting.

But because the state’s new application, a Request for Proposals, emphasizes on different characteristics of schools than the city’s had — notably schools’ plans for building community support and for serving special education students and those learning English — it is likely to prompt some changes.

“There are parts of the RFP that make you want to reframe your application and emphasize different things,” Soussloff said.

Another side effect: the confusion has complicated the timing of the public hearings that prospective charter schools are required to have in the neighborhood where they want to open schools. Soussloff said that her hearing was originally supposed to be in July, and then August; now she isn’t sure when the hearing will be scheduled.

One big question mark that remains about the city’s evolving role is who would have main oversight of the schools if they’re approved. Under the old system, the city monitored schools it recommended and shut schools down if they didn’t perform well. But the law is silent on whether that would continue as it had in the past.

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