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As city revises space-sharing plans, settlement looks possible

A contentious legal battle between the city and the teachers union could be inching toward a settlement as school officials race to re-write plans that are key to the dispute.

In the past month, city officials have revised each of 20 space-sharing plans outlining how charter schools would be housed inside district buildings. The way that previous plans allocated space between charter and district schools is a central criticism of the teachers union’s lawsuit.

The sweeping revision effort is in direct response to the lawsuit, filed May 18, Chancellor Dennis Walcott acknowledged in a statement.

Several of the plaintiffs listed on the lawsuit praised the revisions and indicated that they might lead to an out-of-court settlement.

In a conference call with reporters, Ben Jealous, the president of the NAACP, a lead plaintiff in the suit, said his organization’s ultimate goal was to place all students in their school of choice. “We are open to all options to settle this suit,” he said.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in an interview today that he was “happy” with the efforts. UFT lawyers, he said, have expressed cautious optimism that the revised plans would satisfy their demands.

The city’s move means that the plans, many of which were already approved by the Panel for Educational Policy, will require new votes by the PEP and new public hearings to solicit community feedback on their terms. The city began holding new hearings this week.

The most significant revisions made to the plans, called Educational Impact Statements and Building Utilization Plans, will allocate more time in common school building space — such as libraries, cafeterias and gymnasiums — to students enrolled in district schools.

Previously, the plans uniformly gave each school equal time in shared spaces, regardless of the school enrollment, an education official said. But now the DOE is dividing up space based on how large each school population is.

City Council Education Chair Robert Jackson, also a plaintiff, said that a settlement was possible if it included a commitment to allocating school building space more equitably. “Their move toward equity and fairness is a direction they should have moved toward a long time ago,” Jackson said today.

The lawsuit alleges that the Department of Education has not complied with state education law requiring students to receive an equal allotment of resources. Many of the specific complaints detailed in court documents targeted the shared space inequities.

School officials revised the plans in the last month, beginning even before the union filed its lawsuit. Over the next 19 days, officials will hold joint public hearings for all 20 charter schools targeted for co-location, setting up a June 27 PEP meeting that will have to vote on each plan.

Jealous’ comments came in a conference call with bloggers, which he said was organized to clarify the NAACP’s legal position. Noticeably absent on the call was Hazel Dukes, the president of New York’s NAACP chapter, who was initially listed on invitations as a speaker.

Dukes has been a public presence for the organization since the lawsuit was filed last month, but she sparked controversy with comments she reportedly made to a charter school parent on June 1.

In an email, Dukes said the parent was “doing the business of slave masters,” according to the New York Post.

Jealous described the Post report as a “mischaracterization” but declined to condemn the email.

The suit’s next crossroads is scheduled for June 21, when a state judge will decide whether the city can immediately move forward with its co-location and closure plans.

Meanwhile, the joint public hearings have already begun. Tonight is the co-location hearing for Bronx Academy Success.