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Latest PEP vote leaves schools looking to next mayor for relief

Exiled arts programs. Cramped classrooms. Distressed students.

Families and faculty predicted grim futures for the soon-to-be space-sharing schools during the Panel for Educational Policy meeting Wednesday evening, before the mainly mayor-appointed panel approved 20 new co-locations, just two weeks after it authorized 17 others.

The PEP-backed proposals Wednesday included 11 new district schools and four new charter schools that will open next year, along with several other schools that will expand.

While many at the meeting accused the Bloomberg administration of rushing to enact school changes that will preserve its policies after its tenure ends this year, others turned their attention to the next mayor – widely expected to be Bill de Blasio – imploring him to reverse course.

“He’s got to overturn what’s happening here,” said Noah Gotbaum, vice president of Community Education Council 3 in Manhattan. “Otherwise, Bloomberg will be getting a fourth term.”

De Blasio, the Democratic candidate who was busy Wednesday evening debating his Republican rival, Joe Lhota, has vowed to review the current administration’s late-term changes to school space. This week, de Blasio specified that he would enact a moratorium would apply to “future” co-location plans.

He has also proposed seeking rent from charter schools in public buildings and freezing any new charter school co-locations.

Those proposals provided a ray of hope to Cinnamon Trejos, a teacher at Brooklyn’s I.S. 281 Joseph B. Cavallaro, who fears that the PEP-approved plan to install grades K-4 of the Coney Island Preparatory Public Charter School in her building will disrupt learning.

“Hopefully de Blasio does what he says he’s going to do,” she said.

But Joe Herrera, an organizer with the pro-charter-school group Families for Excellent Schools, said that his son’s reading skills improved so drastically after he enrolled at Coney Island Prep’s middle school that he no longer required a special-education plan after two years there.

He praised the administration’s charter-school-friendly policies, noting that those schools’ waitlists now include more than 50,000 city students – a group that Herrera said would be devastated if de Blasio halted charter school co-locations.

“His moratorium is a moratorium on hope for those families,” he said.

Families for Excellent Schools has estimated that there will be 16,000 more charter school seats created based on plans to expand or open new charter schools in city-owned school buildings.

The PEP finished voting about 1 a.m. Thursday, after hours of testimony from members of a crowd of hundreds that filled the Prospect Heights campus auditorium.

Before the meeting, a small crowd prayed and placed flowers on mock-caskets in a symbolic funeral for schools closed since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office. Then they circled the park reciting the names of the shuttered schools, led by the J.H.S. 52 Inwood marching band.

The school’s gold-and-navy-clad Tigers had come to protest the addition of a new high school to the building they already share with another recently opened high school – a change some parents worried could jeopardize the band’s rehearsal room.

More than 100 family members and staffers from Brooklyn’s I.S. 171 Abraham Lincoln arrived in buses to object to a proposal to reduce that school’s enrollment and open a new middle school in its building.

The 102-year-old building already presents challenges for 171: because a single space is used as a gym and cafeteria, scheduling constraints have kept the 6th grade from having physical education this year, according to students and two faculty members.

Ijah Sellassie, a 171 dean, said another middle school would exacerbate such space issues, and also threaten to crowd out the school’s martial arts, African drumming and tap dancing groups.

He wondered why the Department of Education would propose the change so soon before a new administration.

“It’s like a last-ditch effort to upset people’s lives,” he said.

Department spokesman Harry Hartfield said the administration’s education policies had driven up graduation rates and provided parents more school options.

“Our strategy has worked,” he said, “and with these proposals, that progress will continue.”

The PEP will meet again to vote on the administration’s final proposals in November and December.

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