2010-08-13 / Top Stories

Klein Criticized For Favoring Charter School

Uses ‘Emergency Powers’ To Upend Court Ruling
By Norman Scott Wave Analysis

School Chancellor Joel Klein School Chancellor Joel Klein Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was charged with favoring charter schools run by billionaire power brokers over the needs of autistic children at an August 9 press conference called by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Held under the arch of the Municipal Building at One Centre Street, Stringer was joined by City Councilmembers Rosie Mendez and Robert Jackson and State Senator Daniel Squadron, along with parents of the autistic children affected.

Girls Prep charter school has occupied space in PS 188 on Houston Street on the lower east side. The school building also contains P94, a school for autistic children. Increasing demands for space by Girls Prep, all of which have been granted by Klein, has squeezed the children in the two public schools in the building. P94 had been moved around the building numerous times. Autistic children often find it difficult to handle changes. By allowing Girls Prep to expand to the eighth grade within PS 188, the children would have to be moved again.

State Education Commissioner David Steiner issued a ruling to Klein to stop the expansion of Girls Prep Charter, ruling that it discriminates against the special education students of P94. Steiner had commented in his ruling that Klein could override his decision by invoking the emergency powers granted to him under the mayoral control renewal law passed by the NY State Legislature in August 2009. And that is exactly what Klein did — invoke emergency powers.

The outcry was immediate. “[Sheldon] Silver Calls Klein’s Girls Prep Decision ‘Blatant Abuse’ of Emergency Powers” blared one headline. The lower key NY Times headline read: “Chancellor Declares an Emergency to Sidestep State Ruling and Expand Charter School.”

Parents spoke at the press conference. “I’m upset at the lack of respect given to the educational needs of my son and the other 50 children in that building,” said P94 parent Jessica Santos. Corina Lindenberg, a representative of CEC1, the local school board in the area, said, “[Klein] clearly favors a school that is hedge fund fueled opposing a school that truly serves the children that have the most needs ... not just autistic children but children that are living in poverty that are living on the streets. Look at Girls Prep if they have these kinds of students. They don’t.”

Springer told a story of a meeting he held with DOE officials where they made assurances on the Girls Prep issue that satisfied him. A day later, Klein pulled the emergency powers rip cord. Stringer seemed pretty frustrated with Klein and the DOE but kept talking about holding meetings with Tweed. When asked about the fruitfulness of these meetings with the DOE if they constantly renege and are willing to break the law, Stringer said they have to keep meeting to try to change the policies since nothing can be done until mayoral control comes up for renewal in 2013.

State Senator Squadron said, “The problem is we have an exemption in the law that it seems the Department of Education wants to drive a Mack truck through.”

LowDownNYC, a local Manhattan paper, commented on both Silver, who is the leader of the State Assembly but was not present at the press conference, and Squadron:

“The Girls Prep controversy marks the first time the chancellor has invoked his ‘emergency powers’ since Albany renewed mayoral control of New York City’s schools last year. That legislation was the result of a deal brokered by State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and co-sponsored in the Senate by Daniel Squadron. Last fall, Squadron addressed skeptical parent activists, who were worried the mayor and chancellor would continue (in their view) to ignore community input about local schools. Squadron told them the new law included provisions that would assure DOE accountability to parents. As a co-sponsor of the legislation, Squadron said, he would make sure the Education Department respected the letter as well as the spirit of the law.”

With the disparity between public schools and charter schools controlled by wealthy people with influence, the pressure on the politicians from parent and activist groups appears to be growing. Numerous meetings of parent activist groups are being scheduled over the next week.

“Why did Girls Prep want to expand in the first place?” asked Class Size Matters’ Leonie Haimson. “The school had recently moved into dangerous territory fiscally speaking, and most likely wanted an infusion of taxpayer funds generated by higher enrollment, without having to dip into the hefty pockets of their board members,” referring her readers to the SUNY fiscal dashboard for details. http://www.newyorkcharters. org/FiscalDashboard.htm

Charter schools use public tax money but are managed by private interests outside the purview of elected officials. Why is so much private money flowing into charters, which, combined with the public money, allows many of them to offer more services and lower class size?

Haimson on her NYC Parent blog said, “Billionaire hedge fund privateers are intent on ‘leveraging’ their private contributions.” She pointed to this comment in the NY Times by Whitney Tilson, Hedge Fund manager and an education activist promoting charters: “It’s the most important cause in the nation, obviously, and with the state providing so much of the money, outside contributions are insanely well leveraged.”

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