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SUNY Charter School Institute Executive Director Susan Miller Barker, SUNY trustee Joseph Belluck, and general counsel Ralph Rossi  in 2014.

SUNY Charter School Institute Executive Director Susan Miller Barker, SUNY trustee Joseph Belluck, and general counsel Ralph Rossi in 2014.

Geoff Decker

SUNY charter chair: We won’t authorize more schools without more funding

If SUNY is going to oversee more charter schools, it’s going to need more money, the chair of its charter-school committee said Monday.

Trustee Joseph Belluck said SUNY is facing a choice between maintaining the Charter School Institute’s strict oversight or stretching its staff thin by authorizing more New York City charter schools, as the state legislature allowed in a deal approved last week. Belluck said his decision was clear.

“I will say this now: I am not scheduling a vote on a single charter, a new charter, until there are additional resources allocated to the Charter School Institute,” Belluck said.

“I am saying it to the charter community and the legislature and everybody else. I am a very stubborn person. I will not change my mind about this,” he added. “If you want more charters in New York City or in upstate New York, you need to figure out a way to give us the resources to do it.”

SUNY is one of two entities, along with the Board of Regents, that can approve new charter schools in New York state. Until last week’s legislative deal, New York City charters were divided into those set aside for the Regents and for SUNY. SUNY had nearly exhausted its supply, with only one remaining charter.

The new law allows 50 additional charter schools to open in New York City, and allows those applicants to choose between the Regents and SUNY, the preferred authorizer of some of the city’s charter-school networks, including Success Academy. If schools rush to SUNY, Belluck said, the situation could become untenable.

“I do not think it would be the responsible thing for me to add more charters to the Institute’s workload without some additional funding,” he said. “I am personally very disappointed that the legislation that just passed did not include some additional funding for our work.”

SUNY Charter School Institute’s budget for the coming school year, when it will oversee 146 schools, is $2.58 million. The Institute’s funding has trended downward for years even as it added more schools, and next year’s budget is less than the Institute was allocated in 2009-10, when the Institute oversaw just 68 schools, though it represents an increase over its $2.44 million budget for 2014-15.

Few were ready to offer additional support Monday.

“We fully expect the Charter Institute and SUNY to comply with the law and approve applications for high-performing charter schools, as it would be irresponsible not to,” a Cuomo administration official said in a statement, which praised the Institute’s “impeccable” track record. “This year, the State did approve an additional 5.8% increase for the Charter Institute, while many other agencies were held flat, so we believe they have the resources to handle any additional workload.”

The New York City Charter Center was also critical of any potential delay in approving new schools.

“While we are sympathetic to the need of charter authorizers, including SUNY, to have sufficient resources to accomplish their critical oversight role, nothing can or should delay new great public charter schools from opening,” Charter Center CEO James Merriman said in statement.

Merriman said he hoped SUNY would quickly release a request for proposals, which would kick off another round of charter applications. Susan Miller Barker, the Institute’s executive director, said during Monday’s meeting that one was ready to be posted later this week.

Geoff Decker contributed reporting.