2010-02-19 / Front Page

City, ABTS To Build School For Smith Charter

By Howard Schwach
Although Department of Education sources say the agreement has not been finalized, a 2007 Memorandum of Understanding between the city agency and the developers of Arverne By The Sea point to the fact that the two intend to split the cost of a new school building to house the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, a charter school founded and funded by State Senator Malcolm Smith.

According to the agreement, Ben jamin/Beechwood, the ABTS developers, would contribute 22 percent of the costs, while the city would kick in 74 percent. The other four percent would come from the charter school itself, through government funding provided by Smith.

The proposed school would be built on a “five acre site within the project known as Arverne By The Sea,” the MOU says, adding that the facility would be “for lease to the Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School.”

Despite the wording on the MOU, Gerard Romsky, Arverne by the Sea’s CEO and project director says that it is not a certainty that Smith’s Charter school will eventually end up in the school building it will construct as part of its deal with the city.

“PPA is not set as the operator of the school,” Romski said this week. “They rent the land they are presently using for $1 a year, but we did not give them the trailers they use [as school buildings] and I don’t know where they came from.”

He added that he is not sure what form the school will take.

The MOU, which specifically names PPA as the school that will take over the new building, adds that the “restrictive use covenant would last for a period of 30 years.” That covenant says that “the building can only be used as a charter school or other public educational school facility.”

Anne Forte, a Department of Education spokesperson, told The Wave on Tuesday that the agreement has not been finalized only because the PPA has not yet settled on a budget that will include its share of the pot.

“This has been in the works for a while,” Forte said.

Should the MOU be finalized and come to fruition, it would not the first time that the PPA has moved into a taxpayer-funded building.

In 2005, the city renovated a former yeshiva on Foam Place in Far Rockaway to house the school, which started operations at MS 53, right across the street from the Foam Place renovation.

According to city records, the renovation of the building was done by the Darman Group. The president of the Darman Group is Darryl Green, the convicted swindler and ex-business partner of Smith, who was involved with former Representative Floyd Flake in the Aqueduct gambling Racino deal, which is under state and federal investigation. Green dropped out of the consortium last week rather than jeopardize its chance to run the Racino.

Smith and Congressman Gregory Meeks are also under investigation for their involvement in a non-profit organization, the New Direction Local Development Corporation, which the two founded.

And, while Smith says that he has no present connection with the charter school, he apparently had lots to do with its founding.

In March of 2004, Smith stood in front of Far Rockaway High School after a tour of local schools.

“I’m going to actually put together my own school to make sure that the kids out here are going to get a good education,” Smith said. “We’ve got to do something for these kids because many of Rockaway’s schools are an embarrassment.”

Smith announced that his charter school, which would share the building housing Middle School 53, would include a $500,000 state-of-the-art science lab, funded by City Councilman James Sanders Jr.

The school eventually moved from the middle school across the street to the Foam Place facility in the renovated yeshiva fixed up by Green’s Darman Company, records show.

Recently, when reporters questioned his connection to the school in light of the fact that he earmarked $100,000 in public funds for the school and voted to double the number of charters in New York State, a spokesperson said that Smith divested himself of any connection to the school in 2004, when he became the Senate’s Majority Leader.

Tai White, a local spokesperson for Smith, told The Wave at the time, however, that Smith “remains involved and active” with the school.

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