View Full Version : All NYC Charter Schools Face Hurdles in Offer of Free Space

04-25-2011, 09:44 AM
From the N.Y. Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/nyregion/charter-schools-face-hurdles-in-offer-of-free-space.html) by Michael Winerip:
After Matthew Greenberg had spent 18 years as a New York City teacher, he wanted a school of his own and decided to try opening a charter.

For a year, while continuing to teach, he used his spare time to prepare the state’s six-inch-thick charter application. In December 2008, he was approved and made plans to open an elementary school in Queens to be called Growing Up Green Charter (http://www.gugcs.org/). The first step was finding a suitable location in a public school building, which charters can use rent-free.

For months that spring, he worked with Education Department officials, hunting for space. “It was high anxiety,” Mr. Greenberg said. “You have to wait until you hear from the department if a building is available. They had space, then they didn’t.” It could take a year, he was told.

If Mr. Greenberg did not start recruiting students and staff members, he would lose the school year. So, he rented space in a closed Catholic school for about $320,000; with operating expenses, the cost would be $700,000 a year.

The city pays a charter $13,527 per child. To increase his revenue, Mr. Greenberg set his average class size high, at 28 students per class. He would prefer to have 25, but those three extra children in each classroom — a total of 27 additional students at the school — generates $365,229 in revenue, which literally pays the rent.

Rent is not something charter chains worry about. KIPP, the nation’s biggest (99 schools) and richest ($160 million in corporate grants over the last four years) chain, pays no rent for its seven charter schools in the city. Nor does Eva Moskowitz, who has opened seven Success Academy charters in Harlem and the Bronx. Achievement First (http://www.achievementfirst.org/) has 10 charters in Brooklyn that do not pay rent, and Uncommon Schools (http://www.uncommonschools.org/usi/home/index.html) has 12. Citywide, 67 percent of chain charters receive free space in public school buildings, compared with 51 percent of independent schools.

“I look at every dollar of every oil and electricity bill,” said Mr. Greenberg, whose school in Long Island City, Queens, is flourishing. There are 700 applicants for 90 spots for the next school year. The school blends Mr. Greenberg’s progressive philosophy with a testing regimen. Every six weeks, students take assessment tests on laptops. Michelle Hessey’s science class is raising seven baby chickens, and the kindergarteners are caring for their teacher’s pet, Walter the duck.

To improve the ratio of teachers to students, Mr. Greenberg uses his reading, music, art, science and gym teachers to assist classroom teachers each morning for language arts and math lessons. “If I didn’t have to pay rent,” Mr. Greenberg said, “I’d have more money for science, resource materials, books, more teachers.”

An Education Department spokesman said the city had generally been successful finding free space for any of its 125 charters that wanted space. Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, the spokesman, said the problem in Queens was that public school buildings were so crowded, only three charters there had been able to find free space.

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