Sunday, February 25, 2024

Success Academy's three-card monte: their Fort Greene middle school vanishes & turns into their Sheepshead Bay elementary school, more than 7 miles away

 Note: Gary Rubinstein writes about this issue on his blog as well.

UPDATE, 3/5/24:  Yet another wrinkle to the story below.  A Brooklyn parent sent me the following info:

SA Fort Greene was the infamous "got to go" school and was an elementary school in D13, at 101 Park Avenue, co-located with a public middle school. My guess is that it was sited where it was to draw from some of the low-performing District 13 schools in the general area, as well as others in District 14. But as those neighborhoods have gentrified and local schools have drawn more parents with fundraising capability, SA has looked less appealing to elementary school parents. There are also a couple of charters in the neighborhood, Compass and Community Roots, that have drawn a diverse and more affluent base of families. I have no idea when it closed, but it's not on the SA website. The school's still listed on Inside Schools, however, and the parent comments on that site will give you an idea of the controversy.

So Success Fort Greene was originally an elementary school in D13 with a terrible reputation, that was was somehow transformed onto a middle school in D14, nearly two miles away, and now is magically turned back into an elementary school once again, and transported to Sheepshead Bay, eight miles away -- all without somehow changing its actual identity, according to the State Education Department, or SUNY, its authorizer.  What a shell game!


About a month ago, teacher and blogger Gary Rubinstein sent me an email, asking if I knew that Success Fort Greene Middle School had closed, and asking me if I knew where to access their test scores and past enrollment.  I sent him some data showing their declining enrollment, and then went on a search myself to try to find out more information about this school, but what I discovered was very confusing and contradictory.

It is true that Success Academy seems to have quietly closed their Success Academy Fort Greene MS last year, located at 700 Park Avenue in Brooklyn in D14, even though they were actively recruiting more students to the school as recently as last March, according to their Facebook page. According to their state report card as of 2022-2023, Fort Greene had a sharply declining population of 5th-8 graders.

But Success is still intent on expanding the number of its schools, despite a cap on charter schools. This year, they opened up a new elementary school in Sheepshead Bay HS complex at 3000 Avenue X,  in Brooklyn.  

Last year, a lawsuit was filed to block this charter co-location, focused primarily on the fact that the DOE's Educational Impact Statement did not even mention the new class size law, and instead its analysis that there was available space in the building for the co-location relied upon an assumption that current class sizes in the existing schools would persist forever, even though many of their classes were far above the levels mandated in the class size law.  I wrote an affidavit in support of the lawsuit. The Judge ruled that this lawsuit should have been filed as an appeal to the Commissioner instead, and now the plaintiffs, including the UFT, intend to appeal his decision to the Appellate court.

But to go back to the journey I embarked on when looking into the mysterious disappearance of Success Fort Greene school:

  • Strangely enough, the SED charter school directory still has Success Fort Greene open and located in D13, despite the fact that last year it was in D14 and is now closed anyway. See the Excel spreadsheet of the NYS Charter School Directory (As of October 17, 2023)
  •  On the DOE website,  they also  list Success Fort Greene still open, but instead of a middle school, they describe it as including grades K-1, and located at the Sheepshead Bay address in D22 at 3000 Avenue X in Brooklyn. 

  •  The DOE charter report from December 2023 similarly  lists Success Fort Greene as still open, but also located at the Sheepshead Bay address at 3000 Avenue X, Brooklyn.  The spreadsheet shows it as enrolling mostly K and 1st graders; but also one 6th grader and one 8th grader – which is very peculiar, unless this is to maintain some sort of fiction that it is still partially a middle school. 
  • Its authorizer, the SUNY Charter center, also still lists Success Fort Greene as open, but sited at two different locations: first,  at the now-closed address at 700 Park Ave., with both K-1 grades and 5th-8th grades and in D13.  This is despite that its last location was in D14, and the school enrolled no K or 1st graders as far as I know, and is now closed. 

Even more weirdly, under the same heading of Success Fort Greene, SUNY also lists it as Success Sheepshead Bay in a subheading, located at the 3000 Avenue X address - and at both locations having the same principal, Shannon Beatty. 

Clicking on the original proposal as listed at the bottom of the list above, one can see that Success Academy Fort Greene  as originally approved by SUNY was for an elementary school in either District 2,4, 13, 16 or 17 ---to open in 2013-2014.  No middle school is mentioned, and no school in either D14 where it was last year, or D22 where it is supposedly now.
Even more confusingly, I cannot find any authorization by SUNY or the Regents of a Success Academy Sheepshead Bay, after doing a search on their websites. However, in October  2023, SUNY authorized a revision to Success Fort Greene charter, to lower its enrollment at the address where it no longer existed by that point: at 700 Park Ave. Brooklyn.  

This revision says the school was originally chartered to serve both grades K and 5-8  and can now expand to a K-4 school but with a lower enrollment, to serve 126 students in K-1.  It mentions no new Success Academy at Sheepshead Bay, even though that school had already opened in September, the previous month:

Success Academy Charter School – Fort Greene is located at 700 Park Avenue, Brooklyn, New
York 11206 in CSD 14 and is chartered to serve 296 students in grades K and 5-8 for the 2023-
24 school year growing to serve 552 students in grades K-8 for the 2026-27 school year, the
final year of the current charter term. The school requests an enrollment decrease to serve
126 students in grades K-1 for the 2023-24 school year and 538 students in grades K-4 for the
2026-27 school year.

Now, if one takes a look at the Success Academy website instead, there is no longer any listing for Success Fort Greene, but it does list Success Sheepshead Bay , an elementary school with K-1 students at 3000 Avenue X  in the Sheepshead Bay complex, which is far more accurate than the other fictional listings on the DOE, NYSED and SUNY websites.  

This new elementary school, Success Academy Sheepshead Bay is also cited in their Federal replication grant application, as one of four new elementary schools that Success was planning to open  this year with 180 seats.

So on its own website, and in order to get a funding through a federal grant, Success  portrays this as a new elementary school.  But to DOE, SED, and SUNY, its authorizer, it is a but a branch of an already defunct middle school.

What is the explanation for this confusing three-card monte game? I suspect that Success is trying to maintain the fiction to New York authorities that their new Success Academy elementary school in Sheepshead Bay is the very same school as their now-defunct Middle school more than seven miles away, because they are bumping up against the charter cap and do not want to use up one of their valuable  slots– and SUNY is actively involved in helping them participate in this scam. 


Saturday, February 24, 2024

Two Bronx legislators want the city to pay even more for charter rent!

AM Zaccaro and Sen. Sepulveda
 Assemblymember John Zaccaro Jr. and Senator Luis Sepulveda

The Bronx Times reports  a new bill that would supposedly provide more "equity" by making NYC DOE cover the rental costs for all NYC charter schools.

A law passed the Legislature in 2014 required NYC to provide space in DOE schools for all new or expanding charter schools or help pay for their rent, while getting 60% reimbursement from the state. NYC is the ONLY district in the state and even the country with this unfair obligation, where we have some of the highest rental costs in the nation.  Even with state reimbursement, charter rent is costing DOE more than $100M this year, with this amount expanding annually.  The DOE estimates the cumulative cost of charter leases to their budget at nearly a billion dollars since the law was passed.

Now Senator Luis Sepulveda & Assemblymember John Zaccaro Jr. have submitted a bill that would make DOE pay rent for ALL NYC charters.  Meanwhile, Bronx charter schools are springing up in new developments throughout the borough, subsidized by DOE and thus taxpayer funds.

How much would this new bill cost the DOE budget- $1B or more per year? The reporter doesn’t say; nor does she point out that NYC is the only district in the state or nation with this financial obligation.  Nor does she quote any opponents to this new bill.

Why do these two Bronx legislators advocate for more funding for charter school facilities, while not mentioning that not a single new Bronx public school is specified to be built in new five-year SCA capital plan? Could it be because of the deep pockets of charter lobbyists perhaps?

According to Follow the Money, and the NY State Board of Elections, Dan Loeb, billionaire charter school supporter gave Sepulveda $11,800 in 2020 and $11,000 in 2018, with his wife Margaret Loeb matching both donations, along with another $15,000 from John Petry, another billionaire charter school supporter.   

Sepulveda also received $7,000 from DFER and $37,300 from Students First, both charter lobbying organizations, plus a lot of real estate money, which is not surprising as developers profit off charter expansion, as DOE’s rental payments guarantee them a steady source of income when they finance buildings with charter schools as anchor tenants.

John Zaccaro’s three biggest contributors in 2023 were charter school supporters Joel Greenblatt ($6000) Greenblatt’s wife Julie (another $6000), plus Students First NY (yet another $6000). Greenblatt, Loeb and Petry are also on the board of Success Academy charter schools.

In our report on charter rent, we pointed out that some charter management organizations that own or sublease the space for their own charter schools like Success Academy have sharply raised these rents, apparently to gouge more funding out of DOE. 

After we released our report, Senators Liu and Jackson and City Council Education chair Rita Joseph wrote a letter to NYC Controller two years ago, asking for an audit; but we haven’t yet heard that there is any such audit yet in process.

Instead of this awful new bill, public school parents and advocates should support Sen. Liu’s bill, S2137, and A5672, sponsored by AM Benedetto,  that would remove the unfair, expensive and onerous obligation for DOE of having to pay charter rent.