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News + Views

Update: Lawsuit Against Charter School

By Lisa M. Collins

Suit filed to prevent Eva Moskowitz (above) from moving her Success Academy Charter School to Court Street.

On Wednesday a public interest law firm called Advocates for Justice filed a lawsuit in N.Y. Supreme Court on behalf of 15 parents challenging the legality of Success Academy Cobble Hill moving into the school building at 284 Baltic, on Court Street, next to Cobble Hill Cinemas.

The lead attorney, Arthur Schwartz, has filed other suits against the DOE and Success Academy, and tried to prevent the chain of academically-rigorous public SUNY charter schools from entering the Brandeis High School complex on the Upper West Side. The suit was unsuccessful. Schwartz is also leading a suit against DOE, in an attempt to knock down the city’s policy of leasing school space to charter schools for $1 per year.

“This fight is not a fight about charter schools. It is about charter schools living by the rules,” Schwartz said in a statement (read the lawsuit).

Parents in Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens have been flooded with flyers advertising the new school. Kids are accepted by lottery, with a preference for kids in District 15 and kids from failing schools. According to Kerri Lyons, spokeswoman for Success Academy, the school has received more than 200 applications from District 15 for 190 kindergarten and first grade seats slated to open in September 2012. The school is approved at 284 Baltic through the fourth grade and said it hopes to expand to the 8th grade.

Opponents of Success Academy Cobble Hill involved in the suit say it is targeting upper class brownstone dwellers and will hurt neighborhood schools. Yet parents from the Gowanus Houses say they are also flooded with flyers and mailers advertising the school.

“They’ve been sending me flyers in the mail every week,” said Desiree Sabater, a mother of three who lives in the Gowanus Houses, a publicly-subsidized housing project at Hoyt and Warren streets. Sabater’s two eldest kids attend PS 32 in Carroll Gardens on Hoyt and President.

“I’m constantly getting things in the mail. They must really want me to move to a charter school,” Sabater said.

The lawsuit, backed by the United Federation of Teachers, according to Gotham Schools, argues that Success Academy cannot legally move into District 15 (which encompasses Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook), because it’s original request to SUNY proposed a school in District 13 or 14.

Cynthia Proctor, spokeswoman for the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which has chartered 81 schools in NYC and is one of the largest chartering authorities in the nation, told South Brooklyn Post that the state university has the authority to approve such a move between districts in a borough. The move was approved in January.

But the lawsuit quotes state law stating that for charter schools to move districts, they must apply to change their charter and give the new district 45 days notice.

Jim Devor, head of the Community Education Council for District 15, says his organization has not joined the lawsuit but agrees the charter school should not be allowed into 284 Baltic, which currently houses three other schools: the School for Global Studies and the School for International Studies, each small schools from the 8th grade to the 12th grade, serving mostly low-income students from around Brooklyn, and a small public program for kids with autism and varying levels of disabilities, from mild to severe.

“In particular, we are especially troubled by the ‘bait and switch’ of chartering the school in Districts 13 and/or 14 with a self described mission of targeting “at risk children” and then locating the school in Brownstone Brooklyn,” Devor said in a statement.

Parents at a Wednesday press conference in front of the school said they didn’t understand why their high school children should have to suffer larger class sizes and reduced access to the gymnasium and other facilities caused by the influx of 200 or so kindergartners and first-graders beginning this September.

“My son should not lose out on valuable space and opportunities, just because the Success Charter Network does not play by the rules,” said Colleen Mingo, a parent at the School for International Studies.

For many of the advocates and activists involved in the very passionate fight against charter schools and Success Academy Charter school in particular in New York City, the war boils down to a tug-of-war for resources. Public schools, whether they are charter, and overseen by the state, or DOE, and overseen by the city, get education dollars based on their student populations. So when schools lose kids to charter schools, they lose the state tax dollars that follow those kids. Also, charter schools do not hire union teachers.

The city, under Bloomberg, has supported the boom in charter schools, which educate mostly minority, low-income kids. Eva Moskowitz, who runs Success Academy Charter School, is attempting to reach the middle-class NYC population by moving into the Upper West Side, Williamsburg and Cobble Hill. Her schools are some of the top academically performing schools in the state of New York. They rely on private fundraising to augment the tax dollars they receive for students and facilities. One could imagine that she’s trying to tap into the fund-raising potential in Carroll Gardens/Cobble Hill.

Meanwhile, DOE is shutting down schools it deems as failing.

“I think the DOE has given up on educating children. By their own admission, it’s something they are incompetent in doing, or less competent than educational entrepreneurs. So they’d rather contract it out (to non-profit charters). I think it’ nuts but that’s basically what they are saying,” Devor said.

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Readers' Comments

January 9, 2015
10:57 AM

I would like to reply to the comments of Julianna and Sign Again – people have every right to look at the salary of someone like Eva Moskowitz who not only makes more than most school superintendents who oversee a larger network of schools that does she, but also puts herself in the very public position of making choices for communities that affect many people. What’s really concerning is that she wants to make these schools the model of Public Education, if our society is characterized by overtired zombies who have been drilled to sit still, memorize testing information, and not wiggle then our society will lose the vibrancy, the spirit, the entrepreneurship that makes it a true success. I wish Ms. Moskowitz and her schools would focus their money and their marketing towards private schools and those parents who remove their money and resources from the public discourse by sending their children to such schools. That would be a true feat of brilliance!

February 13, 2012
6:09 AM

There are many reasons that I might be for or against a charter school. The VERY LAST one is that professionals are getting paid good wages. I really do think school administrators should be getting the same pay as, say, a 30 yr old lawyer.

I toured Success UWS and I have to say my head was completely turned around. They do a lot of things right.

Sigh Again
February 10, 2012
7:07 AM

Dearest Jackie. Before throwing stones on what a not-profit Charter Founder takes home on a yearly basis, you should take a look at some of the salaries for NY Traditional Public School Superintendents.

This is one drastic example listed below, but according to statistics, approximately 33% of state superintendents make more than $175,000 per year (state average $163,000, national average $160,000).
* $506,322: Carole Hankin, superintendent Syossett Central

So it’s not like Eva is drastically taking advantage of her Charter’s salary allocations for tremendous personal gain.

February 9, 2012
2:40 PM

How’s about a link to or a copy of the lawsuit, who the attorney is, a copy of the Notice of Claim (must precede a lawsuit)? How about what claims are being raised, and a response from the DOE or someone about the merits? Otherwise, this reads like a press release without any real understanding of the merits other than an emotional response.

As for the other commenter, lots of executives at non-profits earn greater than $400k. Check out and Gov Cuomo’s recent Executive Order to cap executive pay at non-profits who received NYS funding. Many hospitals in NY are non-profits and their CEOs earn millions (but claim no money to pay for uninsured patients). Harumph!

    Lisa M. Collins
    February 9, 2012
    4:53 PM

    Hi Anonymous:
    Excellent points all. As tangental as it may seem, I had to take a sick child to the doctor today. But please stay tuned, I’ve got the suit and responses and more and will have an updated story up with more reporting by tomorrow mid-morning.
    All best,

February 9, 2012
9:30 AM

Hi Lisa,

Thank you for covering this story and keeping the discussion alive in our neighborhood. Believe me, I do feel a bit like I’m flogging a dead horse, but I also felt I couldn’t say no to a request to be a part of this latest effort. It is the morally correct thing to do.

I need to correct something in your article and I hope you will not take it as an insult or an accusation, because I do not mean it that way. The reason us NEST parents were there yesterday was not because the K213 building houses a school for autism. I don’t think that actually occurred to any one of us. Rather, it is because our children go to a school similar to Global/International in that the vast majority of the children are African American and live in the Gowanus Housing Projects.

We understand that schools like this serve those students not just academically, but also emotionally and spiritually. They educate the whole child, the whole family, the whole community. They are an extension of the home. We understand what the emotional impact will be on those students when they loose their resources and quality of education so that we middle class families can have “more choices.” They will be devastated.

As parents of children who attend PS 32, we have learned a lot. We would not walk into a school like the UWS Success Academy, or Harlem Success and say that, “Oh look, the children have brown skin, therefore this school is diverse and serves the needy.” We understand that those communities are as diverse and complex as ours, and that the *truly* needy are not being served by Success, they are being excluded and trampled upon. The charter schools have divided those communities and further marginalized those children who really need help.

Is it possible for any of us who live in this neighborhood and have been subjected to the barrage of expensive advertizing and PR to think that this enterprise is “not for profit” and should only pay $1 a year in rent? Can anyone who earns 400K claim to be not-for-profit and altruistically motivated? If you could but ponder those very obvious questions first, I think you will begin to understand what is actually going on here, and why we feel compelled to stand up to these folks, even if we don’t win, and even if we sometimes look a little silly doing so…It’s worth it.

    Lisa M. Collins
    February 9, 2012
    9:45 AM

    Hi Jackie thanks for your response. There are many valid concerns and arguments in this battle over schools, and they are all very important as they impact the city’s children, and that’s why we get so passionate. I don’t think anything could be more important than throwing oneself behind doing what’s best for the city’s kids.
    The only thing I would suggest from your thoughtful comment is that when I interviewed kids who attended the School of Global Studies and the School of International Studies recently, none lived in the Gowanus Houses. They all rode the subway in from other parts of Brooklyn: Crown Heights, the far edge of Red Hook, Windsor Terrace and elsewhere. So in that way I’m not sure it’s a neighborhood school, though I need to do more research and I’m working on that.
    Thanks so much again for your comment.