Council Speaker and mayoral frontrunner Christine Quinn with UFT President Michael Mulgrew at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year.
Michael Duffy remembers the moment he decided City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was his pick for mayor.
It was in the summer of 2011, at an informal lunch with community leaders that Duffy attended. Duffy, who formerly oversaw the city's charter schools office, said Quinn gave her unqualified support for the controversial practice of giving charter schools free space in public schools.
"She went right to the issue and said that charters couldn't grow in the way that they have been able to without co-location and that's why she thought it was a good policy," Duffy said last week.
Duffy, now the managing director at Victory Education Partners, went on to contribute $1,250 to Quinn's campaign and has helped her raise thousands more from charter school leaders.
Most of those contributions came in 2011, however. Donors from the education world largely sat out of mayoral fundraising activities over the past six months, according to campaign filings released last week.
Duffy, who is planning to open a charter school in New York City in 2013, contributed $250 to Quinn this year. The small donation made him one of the only charter school leaders to give to any prospective mayoral campaign so far in 2012.
"Folks are all over the map in terms of their views of the mayoral candidates," said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that supports candidates who favor the expansion of charter schools.
Teachers and students crowd the panelist table at a public hearing to demonstrate overcrowding inside a Henry Street building where a charter co-location is proposed.
Confusion over where a new elementary charter school was supposed to be sited on the Lower East Side — and the co-location plan that ultimately emerged — has prompted widespread opposition from the community.
Up until four months ago, Manhattan Charter School II was bound for private space in District 1 — or at least that's what its founders were hoping for and told local elected officials. But after those plans fell through, the Department of Education moved quickly to offer up public space in a Henry Street building that already housed three middle schools and a high school.
Now that plan is under attack by teachers and administrators at the schools, as well as the elected officials who originally were under the impression that there would be no co-location.
City Councilwoman Margaret Chin said she initially supported the school's opening, and even helped connect the school to a couple of viable private facility options last year. MCS II was hoping to lease a building owned by the Archdiocese of New York, but lost out on its bid.
Chin said she felt deceived by the charter school after reading its original charter application for the first time in recent days. In the application, she discovered that the school "seeks to be located in public school space" in District 1.
“I was shocked when I read it,” Chin said. “When they came to ask for help, they said they were looking for private sites only. I’m just very disappointed to find out that they intentionally, all along, were looking for public space."
Lawyers for the Department of Education were back on the defense in Judge Paul Feinman's courtroom on Thursday morning to argue a new twist on an old charter school co-location debate.
A new lawsuit argues that more than 80 charter schools sited in public school buildings have gotten free rides on facilities expenses such as utilities and building maintenance. Parent groups who brought the lawsuit earlier this summer are suing want the DOE to collect more than $100 million in rent money that they say should have been charged.
Today's hearing on the lawsuit, which did not yield an immediate decision, comes less than two months after the same judge rejected the United Federation of Teachers and NAACP's request to halt all charter school co-locations. That lawsuit argued that the co-location plans favored the charter schools.
In today's hearing, arguments focused on the city's policy, in place since 2003, that lets charter schools share space free of charge. Eighty two charter schools are now occupied in public buildings that house an estimated 27,500 students, according to court papers.
New York State charter law, first written in 1999, states that charter schools can be located within a public school building "at cost" based on what they are charged to rent, lease or own private or public space. How much "at cost" should be worth – if anything at all – was a major source of disagreement between the sides.
Arthur Schwartz, arguing for the plaintiffs, said in court that the charter schools in public school buildings should have to pay for the per-pupil costs because it provided them with inequitably favorable resources at a time when district schools are forced to cut their budgets.
"It gets at the heart of some of the disparities of the tales that we've heard in the schools," Schwartz told Feinman.
A contingent of New York teachers joined thousands of protesters from across the country in Washington, D.C. on Saturday to march against the Obama administration's education policies.
Joining them was actor and budding philanthropist Matt Damon, who railed against "corporate reformers." In an interview with GothamSchools, Damon exhibited a familiarity with New York City education politics, criticizing co-locations of charter schools and district schools and calling out the Success Charter Network in particular.
The march was the main draw of a four-day event called "Save Our Schools," which included a conference and a film festival. A coalition of more than 100 teachers came down from New York City, including groups from the United Federation of Teachers (this reporter embedded with a UFT-sponsored charter bus) and the Grassroots Education Movement. GEM also hosted a workshop at the conference and showed its documentary film The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman to an audience of about 250.
More than a dozen speakers - including Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, Deborah Meier - spoke at a rally that directly preceded the march. The lineup featured songs, performances, poem readings, in addition to a pre-taped message from The Daily Show host Jon Stewart (here's an excerpt).
The city is hoping that the second time is the charm for its plan to move a charter school into the P.S. 9 building in Brooklyn.
A revised version of a plan outlining how the two schools would share space is one of the items expected to be passed at tomorrow night's Panel for Educational Policy meeting. (A majority of panel members are appointed by the mayor, and so city proposals always pass easily.) State education officials overturned a first draft of the plan last month.
The state's move followed an appeal by parents at P.S. 9 parents who claimed that the city's proposal did not include required information. Parents at the school also challenge the city's plan because it conflicts with their own hopes for the school, which they would like to expand through the eighth grade.
Parents have even nominated one of their own, a P.S. 9 parent who is currently a dean at a Manhattan middle school, to oversee the expansion, which would require P.S. 9 to take up more space inside the building.
The Department of Education is standing by its plan. "We are pleased with P.S. 9’s progress and understand the desire of the school to expand, but in this case, the need of an entire school district strongly outweighs the need of one school," said Marc Sternberg, deputy chancellor for portfolio planning.
Faye Rimalovski, a P.S. 9 parent, said parents are prepared to protest the plan at tomorrow's PEP meeting. "Armed and ready," she said.