News stories

The haves and the have-nots

Charter school extras make public schoolsin same buildings feel second class

Not cool! The only air conditioners in the PS/IS 377 school building in Bushwick Miller Photography

Not cool! The only air conditioners in the PS/IS 377 school building in Bushwick are in the third-floor classrooms reserved for the colocated Achievement First charter school students and staff.

PS/IS 377 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, lost its third floor to an Achievement First charter school that immediately rewired its part of the building for air conditioners.

“They have whatever they need while we scrape by with pennies from the city,” said Chapter Leader Todd Marks.

A Success Academy charter school in the JHS 22 school building in Concourse Village in the Bronx receives breakfast and lunch from an upscale bakery-café.

“What child in regular public school receives breakfast and lunch from Panera?” asked JHS 22 Chapter Leader Michele Barrow.

Air-conditioned classrooms and the delivery of special meals are symbols of the sharp divide between New York City public schools and the charter schools that get free space in their buildings.

“Charter school advocates in Albany continue to push for more free space and more taxpayer dollars, even though it’s clear that city public schools are the ones in need of additional resources,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

In roughly 200 New York City school buildings, public schools have been forced to share quarters with charter schools. That arrangement has given many public school educators a front-row seat to witness the glaring inequities between public schools funded exclusively with scarce taxpayer dollars and charter school chains that supplement public dollars with millions more from Wall Street billionaires intent on privatizing public education.

Special education teacher Edward Shapiro at PS 202 in East New York, Brooklyn, marvels at the resources poured into the Achievement First Aspire Charter School in his building.

“Their floor is beautiful, the walls are painted; there are nice pictures on the walls and brand-new furniture,” he said. “It looks like they have whatever supplies they need.”

Rebecca Mayfield, the chapter leader at Sheepshead Bay HS in Brooklyn, reported that the computer lab in the New Visions charter school in her building has new Apple computers, while at her school, “our computer lab has old computers that break down continually.”

The Success Academy Charter School co-located with PS 375 in East Harlem received regular Fresh Direct deliveries until recently, Chapter Leader Darryl Brown noted. The charter school, he said, also has “two to three adults in every classroom.”

In these co-location arrangements, public schools are the poor cousins.

Chapter Leader Alison Shepherd at JHS 202 in Borough Park, Brooklyn, said she and her colleagues have become skilled scavengers. The Achievement First charter school that occupies space in her building, she said, “throws away perfectly good furniture, bookcases, desks and storage cabinets because they have new ones. Our custodial staff rescues them for us if they can.”

Catherine Scott, the chapter leader at Bronx Engineering Technology Academy, makes the best of hand-me-downs from the New Visions Charter HS for the Humanities in her building. “The charter constantly gets new furniture while we are using old desks,” she said. “I use their old furniture when they get new.”

Like many chapter leaders in co-located schools, Brown from PS 375 has abandoned hope that charter schools would be an example of what education can be and would share best practices to improve education for all children.

Instead, he sees the charter movement as “a strain” on public schools.

“We at Mosaic Prep rarely collaborate with Success Academy, nor do we break bread with them,” he explained. “Occasionally, we get their leftovers from special events or what they don’t want at the end of the year.”

“It’s a behemoth of a problem that won’t go away any time soon, especially with Betsy DeVos as our new secretary of education.” Brown said. “It’s such a shame.”

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