Community Education Council 11 is not going down without a fight.
The CEC has filed an appeal with the Department of Education’s Panel on Educational Policy over the approval of a charter school co-location in Pelham Garden’s M.S. 144 building.
The Bronx Charter School for Better Learning II plans to open in the fall with 75 kindergarten students, and expands to grade 5 in the coming years.
The building in question is currently occupied by the Michelangelo Junior High School and the Pelham Gardens Middle School but is significantly under-utilized. According to the DOE, only about two-thirds of the space is used.
The CEC would like to see that extra space used by District 11, said president Pamela Johnson, because many neighborhood schools are overcrowded.
“Where ever it’s overcrowded, it’s going to get more overcrowded in coming years,” said Johnson.
Johnson said the district desperately needs more middle schools, and using space for a K-5 charter doesn’t make sense.
“We’ve been screaming for middle school seats,” said Johnson.
That overcrowding is most apparent in the five district schools still using transportable classroom units. Johnson said the TCUs are dilapidated and inconvenient, and she wants those students moved out of trailers in to the main buildings.
But another reason for the appeal is because the CEC did not have the opportunity to protest the plan at the final joint public hearing on February 9, said Johnson, which she said the DOE scheduled without accommodating the CEC members’ requests. That meeting was also held despite the SUNY Charter School Institute’s decision to postpone for weather, said Johnson.
Community Board 11 has decided to join CEC 11 in its opposition of the charter, and recently voted to send a letter to the DOE expressing its disapproval.
The board’s Education Committee had previously decided to support the charter after a presentation from the school, when they were told there was no opposition to the plan, said board member Al D’Angelo, but when they learned of the CEC’s objections and the reasoning, they reversed their position.
“Children in trailers should be the priority,” said D’Angelo, although he noted that transporting children from other neighborhood schools to M.S. 144 might not be feasible.
And while the Education Committee opposed the BBLII co-location, they recognize the success of the first BBL location on Baychester Avenue.
“It’s a good charter school,” said D’Angelo.
According to the DOE, BBL performs well in comparison to schools within the district and across New York City.
In the previous school year, BBL ranked in the 81st percentile for citywide and 96th percentile for district-wide English Language Arts proficiency scores, and ranked in the 87th percentile for citywide and 91st percentile for district-wide math proficiency scores.
The school was founded 11 years ago to serve students from the northeast Bronx, director Kevin Brennan told the Bronx Times in January. The elementary school has a significantly large waiting list each year, which was why the board decided to open a second location nearby.
Those school’s seats are filled almost exclusively from District 11 because of the priority for local students in the admissions lottery, said Brennan, which will be the case at BBL II as well.
“This is about creating more seats for students,” he said.