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At Brooklyn’s PS 9, state overturns a space-sharing plan, again

For the second time in less than a year, State Education Commissioner David Steiner is putting a kibosh on a city charter school siting.

Steiner yesterday annulled a contentious February Panel for Educational Policy vote to place Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School inside the PS 9 building in Prospect Heights. His 16-page decision sides with seven parents who filed a lawsuit alleging many failures in the Department of Education’s proposal, including that it had not provided mandated details about how the colocation would affect the use of common spaces such as the building’s gym and cafeteria.

“I am unable to conclude that DOE’s failure to comply with the statute’s requirements in this respect was harmless error,” Steiner wrote.

The decision bars the city from trying again to site a charter school in the PS 9 building until it releases a new plan that includes the missing information. Because state law requires that any plan be approved six months before a new school moves in, it’s unlikely that the city could get permission to place Brooklyn East Collegiate inside PS 9 this fall.

Meanwhile, another school already open in the building, MS 571, is set to start phasing out due to poor performance, and PS 9 administrators say they will push to add middle school grades.

Last August, Steiner threw out the city’s plan to expand Girls Prep Charter School inside its Lower East Side building because the city had not given enough information about how the expansion would affect disabled students. (At the same time, he rejected an argument from parents at Brooklyn’s PS 15 that the city had inadequately explained the impact of a space-sharing plan there.) Then-Chancellor Joel Klein at first threatened to use emergency powers to push the expansion through, but he later reversed his position and told Girls Prep to find new space, delaying the opening of its new middle school by several weeks.

Although Steiner allowed PS 9 parents to achieve their ultimate goal — keeping Brooklyn East Collegiate out of the building — he dismissed several elements of their argument. For example, he discarded the parents’ argument that the colocation should be blocked because the city had not consulted with parent groups or school officials at PS 9 and MS 571. The city is not required to do that kind of consultation before proposing colocations, Steiner said.

Still, Steiner’s decision indicates that the state is continuing to scrutinize the city’s adherence to the charter school law passed last year. The law set out strict rules for colocations, including the one to provide thorough details about their impact that Steiner concluded the city violated at PS 9.