Objections raised to charter school expansion

By MIAWLING LAM

Students at Tech International Charter School, a new middle school set to open in Kingsbridge this fall, will not have an on-site lunchroom, gym, library or auditorium, officials have revealed.

The developments emerged during last Thursday’s public hearing into the school’s proposed enrollment expansion.

Nearly 20 residents, parents and elected officials attended the meeting, held at P.S 279 in Fordham Heights, to discuss the school’s merits and voice their concerns about the absence of vital features.

The meeting was arranged after school officials submitted an application seeking permission to accept up to 50 percent more sixth-graders than originally proposed in the school’s first year.

In its initial charter application to the State University of New York—the authority that grants permits—school officials stated they would enroll just 88 sixth-graders.

However, SUNY Charter Schools Institute spokeswoman Cynthia Proctor confirmed the TI board now wants to increase sixth-grade enrollment from 88 to 132 students initially and from 267 to 334 children in 2016-17.

The Charter Schools Institute board of trustees has recommended approval of the charter revision, but the SUNY trustees education committee may not agree. A decision was scheduled for January 25.

Last week’s hearing—tacked onto the end of the monthly Community Education Council meeting—attracted such a poor turnout that only two people signed up to deliver formal remarks.

Nevertheless, TI co-founder and executive director Steve Bergen said the school wanted to boost its student intake because it made economic sense.

Officials initially settled on 88 students because the school was originally set to open in a smaller facility at the intersection of Webster Avenue and 184th Street.

However, TI will now open at 3120 Corlear Avenue, a space roughly four times larger.

“The reason for 132 is a pragmatic reason of trying to make our school succeed, so in a year from now, you won’t be looking at a school that is failing,” Bergen said.

“There is an economy of scale in running a school. You get approximately $13,527 from the state for each child, so if we have 100 students, that’s an operating budget of $1.3 million. If we have 130 students, it’s approximately $1.78 million.”

However, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Councilman G. Oliver Koppell both said it would be prudent for the school to prove itself before being allowed to grow by 50 percent.

In a one-page statement read out by a representative at the meeting, Dinowitz said he was concerned about the lack of a cafeteria, gym, library and auditorium.

“TI is to be housed in a facility that I believe is less than adequate for school children,” he said.

“It would be irresponsible to approve the expansion of the number of students in this less-than-desirable facility at this time.

“It would only be appropriate to consider any possible expansion, by 50 percent or otherwise, only after the school has established a successful track record after a few years in operation.”

Councilman G. Oliver Koppell also counseled against the expansion plan, believing it would weaken the existing neighborhood middle schools.

“I have considerable concern about the location of a charter school in an area where there is, if you will, already substantial middle school opportunities,” he said.

“We are trying to build and strengthen both the Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy and the In-Tech Academy, and I’m concerned about the idea of trying to go around and attract children away from those schools.”

TI principal Adjowah K. Scott refuted claims the school would be poaching students and said state education officials should instead see their bid to serve additional children as an opportunity.

However, the small crowd focused on the school’s lack of infrastructure and accused its leaders of not providing children with a well-rounded educational experience.

TI officials have previously said they hope to build a multi-purpose room in the school’s second year using funds from a SUNY capital grant. However, until then, the school would look to create partnerships with neighboring schools and local community organizations.

After learning the school will not offer its students a cafeteria until at least September 2013—children will spend the first school year eating lunch in classrooms—District 10 Community Education Council Vice-President Valerie Greaves ripped into officials.

“I honestly don’t know any parent that would send any kid to school [where they] could not sit down at an open space and have people serving them lunch, because that’s their time,” she said.
“Lunch is their time, so for you to tell me that there’s going to be no lunchroom, I can’t get past that.”

Bronx Panel for Educational Policy representative Wilfredo Pagan said he, too, was disturbed by the lack of lunchroom facilities.

“Parents have serious concerns, and the description that you have given, as far as the opportunities for both students and the community, I find difficult to comprehend,” he said.

TI will continue accepting application through Friday, April 6. Admissions will be done through a lottery process, with the drawing held at 9 a.m. on April 13.

Pupils who reside within District 10, which encompasses a large swath of the northwest Bronx including Riverdale, Fordham and University Heights, will be given priority.

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