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Chancellor Carmen Fariña at a PEP meeting.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña at a PEP meeting.

In latest display of independence, panel delays two charter co-location votes

The city’s Panel for Educational Policy put off final decisions about two controversial space sharing plans on Wednesday, including one involving a Success Academy charter school.

Panel members said they were uncomfortable with the concerns raised by parents and teachers during the meeting and wanted more time to assess the issues. The plans would have allowed Icahn Charter School 7 to expand inside the Bronx building it shares with P.S. 93 and a Success Academy school to open inside the Brooklyn building currently occupied by Andries Hudde Middle School in Midwood.

“I feel that the panel needs to get more information before we make big decisions like this,” said Lori Podvesker, a panel member appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, as she introduced a motion to table the votes.

The delays offer the latest indication that the panel does not want to be seen as a rubber stamp for City Hall in public hearings.

The mayor appoints eight of the panel’s 13 members, who are tasked with approving major education policy decisions. Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, mayoral appointees voted in favor of the city’s proposals or — in one notable instance — were replaced before they could vote against them. While campaigning, de Blasio said he wanted to choose members who would challenge proposals they disagreed with.

Still, the panel hasn’t exactly gone rogue. The proposals were tabled, not voted down, and Chancellor Carmen Fariña offered her support for the move Wednesday night.

“This is the kind of board that this is,” Fariña said, calling the decision “very thoughtful.”

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Many of this year’s meetings have seen close votes or delayed votes on the city’s proposed co-locations, most of which have involved charter schools. The panel also tabled four co-location decisions in January, then passed three of them in February. The fourth plan, which would have co-located Academy Leadership Charter School with P.S. 277 in the Bronx, was scrapped altogether.

Last month, a plan that will place a Success Academy school in a South Bronx building home to three struggling schools was only narrowly approved, and earned “no” votes from mayoral appointees Norm Fruchter and Elzora Cleveland.

The dissent brings its own challenges for the de Blasio administration, which is obligated to find public space for new and growing charter schools or subsidize their rents, thanks to a new law projected to cost the city $32 million by next summer. Icahn 7 and Success Academy Midwood were among the 12 schools the city promised to provide public space for in December.

Meanwhile, the de Blasio administration is still waiting for the state legislature to extend its control of the school system, which expires in June. The Assembly voted to renew mayoral control for three years without making any other changes to the law, which also defines the Panel for Educational Policy’s structure, but the Senate has yet to sign onto a deal.