Kings County Politics
March 17, 2017
In 2014, Mayor de Blasio declared that the educational status quo in New York City “cannot be accepted” and called on educators to ‘shake the foundations.” He said “I know people of every ideology who want to shake the foundations. I know teachers in traditional public schools who want to shake the foundations. I know people in the charter school movement who want to shake the foundations. And what can unify us is that sense of urgency that we can’t accept this status quo.”
International Charter School Executive Director Mathhew Levey.
The school that I founded, The International Charter School (ICS) of New York City, wants desperately to shake the foundations of segregation and persistent low achievement that plague our schools, but our efforts have been stymied by the Mayor’s refusal to offer our students an adequate place to learn.
When I decided to open ICS just two years ago, I knew there would be challenges. What I never imagined was that the greatest obstacle to our school’s success would be the attitude held by Mayor de Blasio towards public charter schools. Since taking office in 2014, the Mayor and his administration have unnecessarily undermined public charter schools like ICS by denying us access to public space.
Many people are surprised to hear that space continues to be an issue for public charter schools. They remember that after the Mayor attempted to deny space to 194 Harlem kids attending a charter school back in 2014, Albany responded by passing a landmark facilities law guaranteeing public charters access to public space.
The law has led the Mayor to act with greater care for public appearance, but in the last three years, the City has approved just 22 of 105 space requests from public charter schools.
This practice hurts small start-up schools like ICS the most. We’ve applied for public space from the de Blasio administration three times in the last two years and have been turned down twice.
The first time this happened, ICS had recently received our charter. Our request for public space was denied, and we began searching for private space to educate the students already planning to attend our school. We toured office buildings, an old car dealership, a former ice cream factory, and a parking garage, but none of them could be converted to suitable classroom space.
Three months before students were scheduled to arrive, we found a building in Downtown Brooklyn. This space helped us get started, but it’s become increasingly insufficient for our needs. Our students don’t have access to a gym, auditorium, playground, or cafeteria. We gave up our library and the supply closets in our 2nd grade classrooms. Physical therapists work with students in the hallways.
Even paying for our building presents real challenges, with rental assistance covering just a little more than half of our annual costs. That means money we’re forced to spend on rent, water bills, and real estate taxes is not invested in students or teachers.
When we applied for public facilities a second time, asking for a space that could hold us while we continued our search, we were denied again.
This fall, ICS applied a third time. Before submitting the application, I identified several buildings in our district that I thought had more than enough room to accommodate our school for a year or two. Officials from the DOE toured our current space.
After several months of discussion, we were offered space four miles away, in a building that cannot accommodate our projected growth. When we asked how this was viable, we were told we could serve fewer students. When we protested further, we were told our current space is adequate to our needs. Next year, with 320 students, we will have 53 square feet of space per child. DOE construction standards are closer to 100 square feet per child.
This process has taken a toll. It’s made our current parents and applicants anxious and has distracted me and my faculty from our most important job: educating students. It also comes up in every prospective parent tour.
ICS families deserve better than this from our Mayor. And the ICS educators who have dedicated themselves to serving families across Brooklyn do too. Mayor de Blasio must put politics aside and give public charter schools equal access to public facilities. Only then will he be able to live up to the promise of his words at Riverside Church, fulfill his role as the steward of New York City schools, and ensure kids from every zip code can get a great public education.