Three space-sharing plans got the green light Wednesday after their decisions were delayed last month, though not before a debate about how to make sure the co-locations wouldn’t get in the way of the city’s efforts to turn around struggling schools.
At issue were whether three of the co-locations could undermine the city’s “School Renewal” program, an initiative that involves outside social-service groups partnering with the city’s lowest-performing schools to offer services like job counseling and mental health services. The schools would be moving into or expanding in buildings shared by a school in that program, which are only just beginning to determine what services they will provide.
“I am worried overall, that if we continue co-locations with Renewal schools we are threatening — if not jeopardizing — that the community schools will develop the programming that they need and have the space to actually house it,” panel member Norm Fruchter said during Wednesday’s meeting.
In response, Chancellor Carmen Fariña said that the city’s community-schools program will be “state-of-mind focused and not room-focused,” and that most important aspect of the programs will be how they are integrated into the school day. The chancellor added that community programs could offer extra benefits when housed in shared buildings, where it would be easy for services to “spill over” to co-located schools.
Before the meeting, the city also added language to the proposals allowing negotiations about specific spaces in the school to continue as the community-schools plans were finalized.
“I say to PEP, do what you need to do, but I’m committed to making this work,” Fariña said before panel members voted on co-locations for Achievement First University Prep, Young Women’s Leadership School of the Bronx, and Success Academy Bed-Stuy I, which was adding a fifth grade.
Those three proposals, and another five co-location plans, were approved.
Last month, Fariña had surprised parent advocates by calling to delay the votes on four proposals, saying that officials needed more time to consider community feedback. The announcement came after hundreds of parents, community members and elected officials wrote letters, made phone calls and attended public hearings to voice concerns over the plans, which also eroded support for a few of the plans among panel members themselves.
Some of the principals involved in the delayed co-locations said Wednesday they had gotten more attention from city officials over the previous month, and were prepared to work together. In two cases, Fariña praised the principals for collaborating and said she was personally committed to ensuring the schools have the resources to make the co-location work.
“If anything, you’ll get more than what you would have if you hadn’t collaborated,” she told them.
The meeting offered partial answers to two crucial questions: Would the de Blasio administration be able to improve the process of deciding on co-locations? And would the city succeed at convincing panel members — some of whom had fought co-location proposals as activists in the past — to go along with proposals, even when the schools involved remain less than thrilled?
On Thursday, Fruchter attributed the new agreement to a significant outreach effort.
“There was very clearly a lot of dissatisfaction and concerns on the part of elected officials,” he said of January’s meeting. “I think what the chancellor did was meet with all the elected officials and meet with the schools, and what that produced was a lot of agreements. It didn’t mollify all of the schools impacted, but it went a long way to reduce concerns.”
Still, the city hasn’t overcome all of the issues raised by January’s proposals. One of the four proposals, which would put Academic Leadership Charter School on the fifth floor of P.S. 277, a 118-year-old building in the South Bronx, is still not on the panel’s future agenda, though officials have said all of the proposals would be decided on by March.
P.S. 277 is considered by some PEP members too crowded to even consider accommodating another school. But pressure remains, given the state law that forces the city to either find public school space or pick up the tab for charter schools to operate in private space if they are new or adding grades.
“There were a bunch of us that were concerned that while the school had some extra space there was not enough to put another school there,” Laura Zingmond, who was appointed to the PEP by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, said earlier this week. “There are hallways so narrow that when you extend your arms out you can touch both walls.”
“There was a general consensus that this was the wrong mix,” panel member Robert Powell said.