See also Class Size Matters' Comments to SUNY board on the application of Success Academy charter in District 3 (pdf) and Comments to SUNY board on the application of the Bronx Success Academy charter in District 7 (pdf)
Firstly, elementary school overcrowding has become endemic to District 3 and there is no room for the co-location of Success Charter school without increasing this already dire situation. Overcrowding predominates in the Southern portion of the district and given the level of new development in Harlem, such overcrowding is moving uptown. Unfortunately, SCA and DOE projections have continually underestimated this enrollment growth - and overestimated existing capacity - leading to increased overcrowding.
Yet even if we use the SCA's own projections for 2012 showing a capacity of 4,043 middle school and elementary school seats and projected enrollment of 3,745 students in Harlem, the 298 available seats the DOE show will not suffice for the proposed new school planned by Harlem Success. And these numbers assume that all the students in the new HSA school would come from District 3, which - unlike the strict in-district policy being imposed by the DOE on all of our D3 elementary and middle schools - is not even the case for Harlem Success who will be drawing students from a number of districts.
Additionally, a fair percentage of these students will in no event be able to matriculate at Success Charter since they likely will require self-contained and other Special Ed services which none of the Success Charter schools cares to or is able to provide. Which begs the question why the favoritism toward Success Charter and why have they been promised a place within our district if instead of meeting the explicit needs of our children then are exacerbating existing problems?
Additionally, the New York State Legislature has made it clear that any impact of co-locations must be assessed in advance and reviewed with the community including the CEC, as well as with the affected schools. Yet SUNY and Harlem Success's application provides no specific information for location of the proposed new school. Without a specific proposed location for Harlem Success, how are we supposed to assess its impact on the community and the schools with which it is co-locating? Where is the transparency and accountability that the legislature demands, and that SUNY repeatedly has promised?
If, however, Success Charter indeed will be co-located within PS 145 as we understand has been planned, once again the issue of capacity and realism is at question. Specifically how will a school slated to grow to 689 students within 5 years fit within a building that by most optimistic estimates only contains 320 additional spaces? Surely SUNY and the DOE should be required to answer this critical question prior to approving a school of this size?
District 3 recently has been awarded an $11 million federal magnet grant to improve racial integration within the district by supporting increased enrollment at the district’s very few under enrolled schools. Unfortunately, the Success Charter application puts this entire grant at very real risk since all 8 magnet schools must have adequate space in which to grow their programs as per the grant application. Currently, however, there is not a single building with the spare capacity to accommodate Success Charter at steady state. Thus the likelihood is great that Success Charter’s co-location will lead to non-compliance for one and thus all of the 8 magnet schools.
Sadly, even without the ability to measure the probable impact of the new Harlem Success co-location, we in District 3 would likely reject a new HSA branch out of hand based on our previous negative experiences with Harlem Success co-locations within our District schools, PS 149 and PS 241. In fact, unlike our experience with other charter schools co-located within District 3 buildings, relations between Harlem Success and their District 3 host schools are uniformly terrible with our District school children being made to feel as second class citizens within the own buildings. This comes down to a lack of cooperation by Harlem Success's management team, who fail to share resources, segregate their classrooms and hallways from their District school neighbors, and routinely and falsely demonize those co-located district schools as "failures." It is also due to the DOE favoring Harlem Success's growth at the expense of our District Schools - as they once again are proposing to do.
Witness PS 241 where Harlem Success IV - which originally was authorized to grow by 125 students next year - now is slated to expand by 175 without any public discussion or review. And to make room for this unauthorized expansion of HSA IV in an already overcrowded building, PS 241 students are being moved out of their three ground floor classrooms into the school’s basement, including an as yet to be converted food service room. Additionally, Harlem Success is being authorized to provide Pre-K services in the new school, whereas over the past 24 months the DOE has summarily cut fully enrolled pre-k sections at District 3 schools PS 185 and PS 241.
The sad message of Harlem Success's proposed expansion at the expense of District 3 schools is and has been that our D3 public school kids are less worthy than their charter counterparts. It says that it's ok to cut district school programs and shove more and more of our kids - many of whom are English Language learners or have significant special needs which Harlem Success and most other charters don't even pretend to address - into our increasingly overcrowded public school buildings.
Overcrowding, favoritism toward a small minority of kids, poor relations among schools, a risk to a critical magnet grant program designated to improve education across the district, and a lack of responsibility to educate all of our District 3 students are only a few of the reasons why District 3's CEC urges you to reject the Harlem Success application.
Noah E Gotbaum, President, for and on behalf of Community District Education Council 3