Public School 15 in Brooklyn one of many struggling against charter schools
Wednesday, January 20th 2010, 4:00 AM
"There is a deliberate attempt [by Klein] to undermine and dismantle a successful public school, and we're going to fight it," Lydia Bellahcene, a leader of the Parents Association and mother of three students at the Red Hook school, vowed Tuesday.
The target here is not a failed school. Even the bureaucrats at Tweed have given PS 15 an A rating for three straight years.
Yet, parents at the school find themselves locked in a neighborhood civil war instigated by the Department of Education. Their nemesis is PAVE Academy, a charter school that shares their building but keeps demanding more space.
The same conflict is being fought out in scores of New York City neighborhoods.
It is one of the main reasons Democratic lawmakers in Albany Tuesday rebuffed intense pressure from Klein, Mayor Bloomberg, Gov. Paterson - even from the Obama White House - to lift the cap on the number of charter schools in the state.
The lawmakers did so even though they risked the state's losing hundreds of million of dollars in "Race to the Top" federal school aid.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) showed the most courage. He was prepared to lift the cap, but only if Klein and other school superintendents agreed to some checks and balances. Among those were new regulations requiring approval from public school parents before space in their school could be turned over to a charter.
So Silver and Sampson decided no bill is better than a bad one. So the cap on charters stays at 200 statewide.
The parents at PS 15 know the importance of having a real voice. A few years ago, Klein's aides announced they were temporarily installing the new PAVE Academy in their school. It was only for two years, Tweed told PS 15, until the charter could find its own building.
"We were shocked at the arrogance we were met with when they [PAVE] arrived, as if this building was theirs," Bellahcene said. "They insisted on separate entrances, stairwells and even bathrooms for their students. They even discourage their children from talking to ours."
"I'm sorry they feel that way," PAVE director Robertson said Tuesday. "We believe firmly there is room for our two schools to be successful with co-location. We're working on that."
And he's banking on a lot more time.
A few months ago, the Department of Education suddenly reversed itself and announced plans for PAVE to stay at PS 15 for up to five more years - until Robertson erects a brand new building for his school.
Since PAVE only has kindergarten to second grade, that will mean adding new grades each year, which means more classrooms.
"They are forcing PS 15's enrollment to shrink," one teacher said. "There aren't enough rooms in the building for basic programming."
All the things that made Public School 15 a true jewel for the children of Red Hook are being torn apart, the parents say.
If this is what Klein calls a race to the top, someone save them from it, quick.