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January 26, 2012
Far Rockaway charter school takes its fight 23 miles to Tweed
Parents from Peninsula Preparatory Academy get in one last chant before jumping on a chartered bus. Parents of Peninsula Preparatory Academy believe politics is what doomed their school to closure in the first place. Now, they're hoping the very same forces will keep it open. With the support of State Sen. Malcolm Smith and City Councilman James Sanders, Jr., more than 100 PPA parents and supporters made the 23-mile trek from Far Rockaway, Queens to lower Manhattan to protest at the Department of Education against its decision to close the school. Smith didn't attend the rally, but a spokeswoman said he donated $600 to pay for one of the buses. Smith's support for the school is well-documented. He served on the founding board of Victory Schools, Inc., a for-profit charter school management company until 2006 and sponsored a $100,000 member item for Peninsula Prep to buy computers in 2010, a move that raised eyebrows at the time from good government advocates. Smith did not respond to requests for comment. Sanders, Jr. attended, but admitted he previously didn't know much about school's plight. He said he threw his support behind it once he saw how much his constituents cared about the issue. "Was it Gandhi who said, 'there go the people. I must follow them because I am their leader'?" said Sanders, Jr. "When my bosses are going to a place where they feel strongly about something, ten to one, that's a place I should be."
February 25, 2010
Queens charter fight flares as parents, teachers turn on board
A teacher contract fight at Merrick Academy Charter School has expanded into a dispute over the school's financial and physical conditions. Emails sent to GothamSchools offer a window into a school where parents, teachers, and board members are locked in a bitter fight, trading accusations about mismanagement, ceiling leaks, and an alleged lack of textbooks. Problems began late last year when teachers and union officials accused the charter school's board of spending millions of dollars on a for-profit management organization, Victory Schools. Now, teachers and parents are blaming the board for shortchanging students on classroom supplies and not making needed repairs. In response, the board is accusing teachers of fabricating the problems. Meanwhile, the school's founding principal has left suddenly, citing personal reasons.
July 17, 2009
Critics, City Hall, and union struck deal, but Senate Dems refused
Bloomberg administration officials are ending a sleepless week in Albany today with no idea whatsoever of how to get mayoral control renewed, along with the unsettling realization that the stalemate could go on for the rest of the summer. In the end, it wasn't that the mayor's office couldn't strike a deal with the largest group criticizing mayoral control, the Campaign for Better Schools, or with the city teachers' union, which had pushed for checks early on. All three parties signed onto a deal together earlier this week, writing down a Memorandum of Understanding that would have put in place parent-training centers that senators said they wanted to add. But Senate Democrats ultimately did not go along with the deal. "It's not like we couldn't agree on terms. It's like they couldn't agree on terms amongst themselves," an exhausted and depressed city official, speaking on background, said in an interview today. "They clearly were saying one thing to us yesterday and doing something different," said teachers union president Randi Weingarten. "That was very frustrating."
July 13, 2009
Details emerge on how mayoral control might be modified
When senators return to work on Wednesday, they will likely vote to bring back mayoral control — but they may also pass checks that would further curb the mayor's power. Details about what those checks would look like began to surface last night, when four senators introduced three amendments with specific changes. Sens. Malcolm Smith, Martin Dilan, Bill Perkins, and Shirley Huntley have all proposed bills that would amend the bill passed by the Assembly, which Mayor Bloomberg supports. Two of the bills call for state funding for a parent training center and only one would prevent the mayor from firing his appointees to the citywide school board at will. Smith's amendment comes as a surprise. As Senate Majority Leader, a post he held a little over a month ago, he was a vocal supporter of Bloomberg's policies. Smith's bill and the Dilan/Perkins bill would give $1.6 million per year for two years to the New York University Center for Urban Education, which would run a parent training center. Another $600,000 would be divided among the city's student success centers, which work to increase the number of students in public high schools that go to college. Huntley's bill would leave parent training to the borough presidents, and sets aside no extra funding for the project.
June 10, 2009
Another victim of the Albany meltdown: charter school supporters
The last few days have been a roller coaster for New York's charter school advocates. Gov. David Paterson proclaimed Monday "SUNY Charter Schools Day." That afternoon, Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced he would favor charter-friendly states in doling out stimulus funds. And later that day, charter groups saw their biggest Democratic supporter, Sen. Malcolm Smith, lose control of the state senate to a Republican coup. But advocates are focusing on the friendly words they're hearing at the national level. Smith "was a great advocate and still is," said Peter Murphy, a charter school lobbyist. "But we have a number of supporters in the Senate from both sides of the aisle. He was never alone on the issue." Charter school supporters greeted Smith's ascent to the state's top leadership position with enthusiasm last year, but worried that Smith, the founder of two charter schools, would drop the issue when it became inconvenient. Smith founded two charter schools and this year he engineered a relief fund to protect the schools from an unexpected budget. James Merriman, CEO of the Center for Charter School Excellence, suggested that the power flip won't affect support for charter schools. "This is an issue that has thankfully transcended narrow party politics," he said, adding that charters have gained support "from the president on down" and do not need to rely on Smith for their bills' survival.
April 24, 2009
Political, parenting strategies align at Harlem Success lottery
A line of parents that wrapped around the block, blue and orange balloons, and a carefully choreographed program greetged hopeful families and political supporters last night at the admission event for the four Harlem Success Network charter schools. In addition to the main event, the naming of admitted students, the evening featured a barnstorming speech by Schools Chancellor Joel Klein (in the video above), a surprise announcement about charter school funding from State Sen. Malcolm Smith, and political exhortations from Eva Moskowitz, Harlem Success's lightning rod CEO. "I wish we could open them faster and have spots for absolutely everyone," Moskowitz said about her schools to the thousands of assembled parents. But she said, "There are special interests and even elected officials who don't support the growth of charter schools." Moskowitz has sparred for years with the teachers union over her aggressive school reform strategies. For the thousands of parents in attendance, politics took a distant second to anxiety about whether their children would be among the 475 selected from the 3,500 entered into the lottery.
April 24, 2009
That $30M relief fund to charter schools could get smaller
We reported yesterday that charter schools, which were disappointed by an unexpected freeze in their budgets for next year, are going to be getting some…
April 23, 2009
Charter schools will get $30M in one-shot plan to counter freeze
PHOTO: Alan PetersimeA Queens charter school encouraged parents and students to call Governor David Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith after it learned charter schools could see their funding frozen. Paterson and Smith are now sending the schools $30 million. (##http://picasaweb.google.com/teach11372/RenaissanceCharterRallyAndMarchAgainstCharterCuts#5319497282636828866##Nicholas##) Governor David Paterson and Malcolm Smith, the state Senate majority leader, are back in good favor with their long-lost charter school friends. Smith has just announced a plan to counteract a budget freeze that took the schools by surprise earlier this year, by sending the schools a one-time $30 million grant. The grant is less than the $51 million that charter schools were slated to lose after legislators axed planned funding increases in their recent budget deal. And it will expire at the end of next year, leaving supporters to wage a new fight over funds then. But a source familiar with the plan who is a supporter of charter schools said that $30 million will be enough to help schools that had been imagining slashing after-school programs and turning down extra staff they'd already hired for next year. Smith announced the planned injection just now at a charter school lottery in Harlem, which Philissa is covering. The lottery is the annual event for the former City Council member Eva Moskowitz, who runs the Success Charter Network in Harlem. Harlem Success is expecting more than 5,000 parents at the lottery, which will determine which children are selected to attend the schools.
April 7, 2009
A unionized charter school says it was betrayed by the unions
Renaissance students organized a protest against the freeze in their budget. Staff at a Queens charter school that is represented by several city labor unions are growing frustrated with the unions, which they worry sat quietly by while state lawmakers slashed charter school budgets two weeks ago. The school, Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights, is expecting a cut of between $500,000 and $600,000 from what was projected for next year after state lawmakers froze planned funding increases to charter schools two weeks ago. Charter school activists have said that they're hopeful that Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who founded another unionized charter school in Queens, will yet restore the extra funds to charter schools, but no deal has been struck yet. That leaves teachers at Renaissance planning for possible teacher layoffs and big program cuts. (The $500,000 cut from the increase the school was expecting is especially hard to shoulder given that pension costs are skyrocketing by $300,000 next year and teacher salaries are slated to go up.) A main frustration, a Renaissance administrator said, is that the unions to which Renaissance's staff belong did not give them a heads up about the cuts — even though staff repeatedly asked union leaders if they should expect a cut. "Our members here feel shafted," Nicholas Tishuk, Renaissance's director of programs and accountability, said. "We were told that this charter school cut was mentioned two months ago, and it hasn’t been on anyone’s lips. And then we find out the Sunday night before the vote on Tuesday that not only was it on everyone’s lips; it’s actually happening." Most charter schools in New York City are not represented by teachers unions, since the schools operate outside of the Department of Education and therefore do not see their staffs unionize automatically. But the union has fought to bring charter schools teachers into its fold. Their slow but steady inclusion has put the union in the tricky position of on the one hand lobbying for limits on charter schools, while, on the other hand, representing some charter school staff.
April 2, 2009
Charter schools celebrating possible reversal of budget cut
Charter school supporters say they are on the brink of a victory in their battle to restore about $1,000 per student in funds that lawmakers tugged out of next year's state budget. They expect that Malcolm Smith, the State Senate majority leader, will restore the funds to charter schools through a last-minute appropriation of Senate funds. "We’re hoping that Senator Smith will be able to, through his good offices, get our funding restored," said James Merriman, the executive director of the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence. The message comes after charter schools spent the last two days badgering Smith, whom they had counted as a strong ally. One Queens school that says it is slated to face a $600,000 cut held a rally, while others sent in form letters to Smith declaring, "We thought you were a supporter of charter schools. This budget betrays that support." Charter lobbyists also rushed out e-mails urging "parents, trustees, and supporters" to call Governor Paterson and Smith asking for help. But the charter lobbyists reversed their position on Tuesday afternoon, sending out an e-mail declaring that the efforts had paid off. The full text of their letter is below the jump. A spokeswoman for Smith did not return a phone call immediately today. Merriman said he can't 100 percent guarantee that Smith will fill the funding gaps. "He hasn’t told me, but we’re certainly hoping that he will do everything he can," he said.
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