ABTS Residents Want Say Over Charter
With last week’s announcement that the Department of Education will not renew the charter for the Peninsula Preparatory Academy, comes the question of who will operate in the new school building that Arverne by the Sea is mandated to build on its property.
Under a 2007 Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the developer, PPA was to become the operator of the new school. Now, the governance question is up in the air, and parents who have bought homes in the massive development are seizing the hour to get control over what they see as “their” school.
One of those parents, Chun Tom, writing for the homeowners association, said that he is glad the lowperforming school is closing down.
“It would have been very difficult to reform the existing school,” Tom wrote to ABTS officials. “Better to start from scratch with ABTS homeowners dominating the Board of Directors. The school must be locally controlled, not by political stooges.”
“We believe the developer should meet with all ABTS Boards and all homeowners to discuss the next steps you plan to take in relation to the school,” Tom added. “Most of us have owned our ABTS homes for more then five years and many have lived here for more then seven years. It is apparent that more than 80 percent of our membership has school-age children and they want to make school plans for their children, myself included. We all want to know at what point in the future they can include your new school into their plans.”
An ABTS spokesperson answered the letter by saying, “Decisions related to education are set by the NYC Department of Education, not Arverne by the Sea nor any other private entity. Arverne by the Sea does not and never had any financial interest in Peninsula Prep, nor did we participate in its government or operation. Although we have tried our absolute best to advance with the building of a new public charter school at Arverne by the Sea with Peninsula Prep as its operator, and believe that Peninsula Prep made great progress under its new principal, we could not proceed with building a school without the OK of the DOE. While we may disagree with DOE’s recent decision regarding Peninsula Prep we cannot proceed without their OK and thus must accept their decision.”
The spokesperson added, “If any appeal by Peninsula Prep is unsuccessful we will work expeditiously with HPD and the DOE to identify a new Charter Operator for the new school so that the planning and construction of the new school can continue in accordance with the agreements that we previously reached with the City. We look forward to continuing this great progress and welcoming a new Charter School operator to Arverne by the Sea. We will, of course, keep you advised of all developments.”
According to the 2007 memorandum of understanding, the ABTS developers would contribute 22 percent of the costs for the new charter school, while the city would kick in 74 percent. The other four percent would come from the charter school itself, through government funding provided by State Senator Malcolm Smith, the founder of the school.
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.”
At the time, the developer’s CEO, Gerry Romski, said, “PPA is not set as the operator of the school.” 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.”
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.
For several years, the school operated in trailers on the ABTS property at Beach 67 Street. For the past two years, the school has rented the former Stella Maris High School building after that parochial high school was closed.
Now, with the coming demise of the troubled PPA, it remains to be seen what roll the ABTS homeowners will play in the development of the new school and when that school will be built.