Walcott blasted in Maspeth over school co-location vote

Walcott blasted in Maspeth over school co-location vote
Photo by Rich Bockmann
By Rich Bockmann

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott got an earful at a routine policy meeting in Maspeth last week when students, parents and educators sounded off on the city Department of Education’s upcoming plans to co-locate a number of schools in Queens.

The city Panel for Educational Policy met at Maspeth High School Sept. 19 for a housekeeping meeting to approve contracts and a change to the Department of Education’s attendance policies.

But on Oct. 30, the panel will meet in Brooklyn to vote on proposals to co-locate eight schools in the borough, including two Success Academy charter schools in southeast Queens.

The process of co-location, or placing multiple schools with their own administrations inside the same building, has been one of the most contentious policies of the Bloomberg administration, especially when it comes to charter schools.

Critics say it creates tensions among the school communities when it comes to allocating resources. Proponents claim charters would not be able to operate without the space provided by the DOE, and when it comes to co-locating public schools, the administration views it as a way to provide students and parents with more choices.

One of the proposals includes co-locating an information technology school with Long Island City High School, which narrowly avoided closure two years ago when the United Federation of Teachers sued to keep it open.

To do this, the DOE would reduce enrollment at LIC by about 450 students over four years to make way for the new school.

Ken Akron, a teacher at LIC, said the repeated attempts to reform the school have caused students nothing but turmoil.

“That’s all we go through in that school from downtown,” he said. “The support is not coming, but the turmoil is certainly coming.”

In Springfield Gardens, IS 59 is currently sharing its building with several grades from PS 176 as that school awaits completion of an addition to its facilities in Cambria Heights. The DOE is proposing to co-locate a Success Charter Academy school, one of two planned for the borough. The other would be at August Martin High School in South Jamaica.

Leslie Myers, a parent of two IS 59 students, said there are already problems with the two schools concerning sharing the cafeteria and traffic, and asked the DOE to hold off on the proposal until parents could better sort the plan out.

“We are asking for a postponement of the Oct. 30 vote until another walkthrough of the physical building can be done during an active, regular school day,” she told the panel.

The panel normally puts forth its proposals in the second half of the school year, but with Bloomberg on his way out the process is getting a headstart this time around.

With a new administration on the way and mayoral control coming up for review, it is unclear what the panel, which has been criticized as a rubber stamp for Bloomberg’s policies, will look like next year.

One thing that is almost certain is that most of its current members will be gone, and UFT representative James Vasquez said he could not be happier.

“The great thing about it is we’re watching this, and we’re going to be sitting there and the community’s going to stay organized. But even more than all of this, we’re going to be watching all you leave the door,” he said.

“Everybody here in the community is going to be here long after you are all gone,” he concluded with a loud show of applause.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.