PS 9 Co-Location: Another Missed Opportunity by the DOE
by Katie O’Hare
-PS 9 Parent Advocate Committee (PAC) member Ivana Espinet
On July 20th, the NY State Education Department dismissed an appeal filed by parents at PS 9 in Brooklyn against the co-location of Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School (BECCS) in their building. It looks like BECCS will be moving in while MS 571 phases out, but that doesn’t mean the larger push for co-location reform is over. Judge Paul Feinman may have denied the UFT’s and NAACP’s request to halt the city from moving forward on school co-locations and closures, but the debate over educational equality between district schools and charter schools students must still be addressed.
At PS 9, the first missed opportunity was expanding PS 9 to middle grades instead of co-locating BECCS. While PS 9′s letter of intent to expand was approved for the 2012-2013 school year and PS 9 received an extension to submit the full proposal by October 1st, the BECCS co-location means they can only expand within their space. PS 9 is currently at full capacity with a waiting list for Kindergarten. If they do decide to expand, they face difficult choices such as serving less elementary students, or cutting from the Pre-K and Gifted and Talented program.
The other missed opportunity was the NYC Dept. of Education’s (DOE) failure to facilitate meaningful engagement of the school community. The PS 9 Parent Advocate Committee has remained strong and steadfast as they’ve fought the co-location plan for the last seven months; their story illustrates the grave need for reform of the the co-location process that was most recently outlined by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio in his “Consensus for Reform” report.
Laura Jaffe, a PAC member at PS 9 explains, “I think you have to approach the school right from the gate…they could have co-located a public school with the same kind of curriculum.” If the school community had been involved in the co-location proposal and decision-making process, they would have known about the plans to close MS 571 and could have applied to expand PS 9 to a middle school. Unfortunately, Principal Sandra D’Avilar’s letter of intent to expand was submitted after the April 13, 2010 deadline. While PS 9 has been invited to submit a proposal to expand in the 2012-2013 school year, now that the co-location plan has been approved they can only expand within their current space. Since PS 9 is at full capacity with a Kindergarten waiting list, they will have to make difficult decisions if they do choose to expand.
Currently, the calculations used by the DOE to create the required Building Usage Plan (BUP) and Educational Impact Statement (EIS) for each school is another significant flaw in the process. The footprint analysis that is used doesn’t consider non-instructional spaces (ie, gyms, cafeterias, etc) or overall student population density. Ivana Espinet adds, “I don’t think [DOE footprint data] is an accurate measure. It’s not about how many people you can cram into a certain amount of space…They are looking at it from numbers not what is going to serve the community, ultimately the purpose of schools.” Additionally, transparency and clarity about the process are minimal, at best.
On July 20, Deputy Commissioner of Education Valerie Grey filed a dismissal of the PS 9 appeal. In addition to procedural issues, Grey noted an “EIS is required to address issues such as “the impact of a proposed co-location on affected students and its ramifications upon the community…DOE is afforded a considerable amount of discretion in determining how best to do this.” Thus Grey concluded, “there is no requirement that the impact of a co-location be addressed in a BUP.”
The problem isn’t just with the freedom given to the DOE to determine what information to share and how, but with the purpose of the BUP and EIS as stated in the statue. The proposals are supposed to “provide sufficient information to the public to inform their comments on the proposal.”5 LeBrie agrees the legal language poses a problem. LeBrie explained, “I think part of the problem is the process. The only purpose is to inform public. If the law says these proposals are the foundation for this co-location, then they (the DOE) would be more careful about them.”
Although the appeal was dismissed PAC members remain vigilant; for often it is parent and local community groups that are the strongest supporters of their neighborhood schools. Each time the DOE dismisses or trivializes parent and community voices, it is a missed opportunity to build a more equitable, just school system. How long will children, teachers, and parents have to wait for the DOE to take advantage of these opportunities?