for sale

In Williamsburg, real estate troubles follow declining enrollment

Built for Williamsburg Charter High School, the eight-story building has a fitness center and a two-story rock climbing wall. It's for sale for $30 million.

The owner of a brand-new school building in Williamsburg is putting it on the market for $30 million after its tenant, the Williamsburg Charter High School, failed to pay rent.

According to a real estate listing for the property, which sits on Varet Street in East Williamsburg, the charter school needed to enroll over 1,000 students this year in order to cover its annual $2.3 million rent. But the school — one of three managed by the Believe High Schools Network — fell short, enrolling only 850. The listing states that enrollment suffered because of construction delays, which pushed the school’s move-in date back by a year and caused school to begin three weeks late this year.

“Understandably, the delay of the move and of the start of the school year led to some families choosing not to enroll their students after the lottery or to transfer,” wrote Believe High Schools Network spokeswoman Jacqueline Lipson in an email. “We also lowered enrollment for incoming students during that transitional time.”

Like traditional public schools, charter schools receive money based on how many students they enroll, so when Williamsburg Charter lost students, its budget shrank. According to the 2009-10 audits of the Believe network’s three high schools, the network also spent more money per-student than it received from the state.

Charter schools were given about $12,400 per-student from the state last year and Williamsburg Charter spent over $16,000 per-student. It spent more per-student at its two other charter high schools, which are located in a district school in Williamsburg. These two new schools, Believe Northside and Believe Southside, did not take in any private donations, but Williamsburg Charter received $37,000 in philanthropic contributions.

Lipson said Williamsburg Charter will remain in the building next year — the school has signed a 30-year lease.

The school “has an overwhelming amount of preliminary applications and is confident to enroll a sufficient number of students for a profitable next year,” the listing states.

Asked why he was selling the building, owner Paul Grossman said he needed the money. Grossman, who build the Varet Street building for the charter school, would not comment on Believe’s finances.

This is not the first time the Believe network has become entangled in real estate problems. Last summer, we reported that that the city and state education departments were investigating the network for holding classes at a facility that was only approved for factory and office use.

President of the New York Charter Parents Association Mona Davids said the school’s reputation was keeping enrollment down, not construction. Though two of Believe’s high schools opened too recently to have progress reports, Williamsburg Charter got a D on its report last year and a C the year before.

“I think word is starting to get around that it’s not a good school and it’s not a good network,” Davids said. “I guess parents are starting to vote with their feet.”

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.