2010-01-22 / Front Page

Question Smith’s Ties To Local Charter School

By Howard Schwach
State Senate President Malcolm Smith, who represents Rockaway in that body, says that he has divested himself from the local charter school he founded in 2004.

State Senator Malcolm Smith (center) joins children and officials of the Peninsula Preparatory Academy in cutting the ribbon for the school’s new home in Arverne By The Sea. The ceremony took place in September of 2008, four years after, Smith says, he divested himself from the school. State Senator Malcolm Smith (center) joins children and officials of the Peninsula Preparatory Academy in cutting the ribbon for the school’s new home in Arverne By The Sea. The ceremony took place in September of 2008, four years after, Smith says, he divested himself from the school. “Senator Smith has been completely divested from any involvement in the governance or the administration of the [Peninsula Preparatory] school for about four years,” his Albany spokesperson Austin Shafran said recently.

Shafran’s comment was in response to questions of Smith’s involvement specifically in the Peninsula Preparatory School (PPA) in light of the fact that he recently earmarked $100,000 in public funds for the school. In addition, his stated goal is to double the number of charter schools allowed by New York State.

Although Smith was the founder of the school, and an original board member, Shafran said, Smith divested himself in 2004 when he was named the Senate Minority Leader.

Tai White, the local spokesperson for the senator said last week, however, that Smith remains “involved and active with the school.”

When White was asked if Smith has a financial interest in the school, she told a Wave reporter that somebody would get back with a comment, but no comment was forthcoming by press time, nearly a week later.

While Smith says he is not involved with the school, in 2008, when the PPA moved from its temporary home in Far Rockaway to several trailers set up on Beach 67 Street in Arverne By The Sea, Smith was front and center in the ribbon cutting ceremony, the only politician who was so honored.

There have been questions about the school from the first, and those questions have deepened over the years, and especially over speculation that the phase-out and closing of Beach Channel High School is part of a political plan to clear the school to make room for a PPA high school component.

Smith’s office denies those allegations.

When the PPA was chartered with Smith as its founder in 2004, it shared space with Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway.

Within a year, however, the state began renovating a building on Foam Place, right next to MS 53. Shortly thereafter, the PPA quietly moved into that building.

At the time, The Wave questioned the genesis of the money used to renovate the building, but no answers were forthcoming, either from the state, Smith, or the school.

From the first, the school, which is a private non-profit charter run by public money, has been administered by the Victory Schools, a for-profit organization that administers many public charters in New York City.

Records show that PPA pays Victory more than $750,000 a year.

Records also show that in 2006 and 2007, Smith received a total of $12,000 in campaign contributions from Seven Kilnsky, who founded the company.

No recent donations from Kilnsky to Smith were recorded.

A company spokesperson told Daily News political reporter Kenneth Lovett that the donations were meant as a show of support for Smith’s pro-charter stand.

Sources say that PPA pays no rent for the trailers in Arverne By The Sea, and that the school will one day move into a new building in that development, a building that the developers must build with their own money as part of the contract they signed to get the land for development.

Experts say that, as long as Smith has no financial stake in PPA, there is nothing illegal about his involvement and his steering money to the school he founded.

The president of the state’s teachers union, however, thinks that, while probably not illegal, Smith’s involvement shows that special interests are driving the recent move to double the number of charter schools, which generally do not fall under union contracts.

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