In a long-awaited decision, the de Blasio administration on Feb. 27 nixed nine of the 49 co-locations, grade expansions and new district schools hurriedly approved in the waning days of the Bloomberg era. Plans to place or expand three Success Academy charter schools inside public school buildings were among those blocked.
It was Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most dramatic break yet with his predecessor’s education policy, in which charter schools were routinely given free space inside public school buildings regardless of community opposition or harm to the existing schools.
“We are not happy with all of the Department of Education’s decisions, but we do recognize that today’s announcement is a first step in undoing the destruction that Mayor Bloomberg and his policies wreaked on our school system,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “I’m glad the DOE has taken an important first step in vetoing some particularly troublesome pending co-locations.”
Mulgrew said it was also important to note that for the first time in more than a decade there was no push to close any schools.
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the DOE’s review of the pending co-locations was guided by four core values: elementary schools should not share space with high schools; schools with fewer than 250 students are unlikely to serve students effectively; costly reconstruction or substantial dislocation to an existing school should be avoided; and District 75 programs should not be harmed.
Fariña issued a statement that reflected the city’s frustration with the number of last-minute placement decisions that her team had to evaluate.
“The previous administration handed over these proposals — and we have had to review all of them under inflexible deadlines,” she said. “We were deliberate in our decisions and, under the circumstances we inherited, believe this is the best approach.”
In an effort to limit disruption — the DOE said the 49 proposals affected some 4,500 students — the chancellor proposed alternative locations for three of the district school co-locations that were reversed, which the DOE said it will spell out in educational impact statements. Another school proposal is being revised. The DOE is delaying a decision on four other co-locations slated for the 2015–16 school year to give communities a chance to weigh in.
Two days earlier, de Blasio introduced a new process to give parents and community members a chance to weigh in before placing a new school inside a public school building.
Under Bloomberg, a public hearing was the one chance available for faculty, students and parents to voice opposition to a co-location plan before it went before the citywide Panel for Educational Policy for a vote. De Blasio vowed a deeper engagement through consultation with parents and School Leadership Teams concerned about the impact on their schools, and he promised to seek their input about improving current co-locations. Senior education officials will also be required to do a walk-through of a school before a co-location is approved, he said.
“We are turning the page on the divisive policies of the past, even as we work with the difficult hand we’ve been dealt,” de Blasio said in a statement. “As a public school parent, I am committed to a fundamentally different way of making decisions about co-locations, and that’s a commitment shared by the longtime teacher now leading our school system.”
The new process keeps co-location approvals in the sole hands of the mayor and the Panel for Educational Policy. The UFT supported a state bill that would require the Community Education Council for the district to approve a school co-location before it could take effect.
Mulgrew pledged that the UFT would work with the de Blasio administration “to make sure that, going forward, the process for creating and placing new schools is respectful, open and transparent. Teachers, parents and communities must have a real voice in how their school buildings are used.”