City cancels charter school's move to Bronx space after board members questioned
BY MEREDITH KOLODNER
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Monday, February 22nd 2010, 4:00 AM
The city has pulled the plug on a deal to house a controversial charter school in a Bronx school building.
The surprise move came after questions from the Daily News about the charter's current and former board members - two of whom hold powerful jobs at the Education Department.
"It's clear the [Education Department] checked its facts and the numbers just didn't add up," said Dick Dadey, executive director of the Citizens Union. "This was a bad decision that raised all kinds of ethical issues."
Last month, the New York City Charter High School for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries won the prized space inside Alfred E. Smith High School, which is being phased down.
Irma Zardoya, a high-ranking Education Department consultant who works at its Tweed headquarters, is the chairwoman of the charter school's board.
Santiago Taveras - an interim acting deputy chancellor with the Education Department - was a board member for the charter until June.
Education Department officials said political connections did not play a role in the charter school's ability to win the coveted space.
"Every decision we make is about improving student success," said Ann Forte, a department spokeswoman.
Department officials said the reversal was based on the input of local trade groups and community officials.
Critics had questioned how the charter school - which lost nearly a third of its students its first year and whose founder, Richard Izquierdo Arroyo, is under indictment - managed to secure the highly sought-after space.
Real estate can be a struggle for charters, which are responsible for finding a home in a system already crunched for space.
The charter school paid more than $130,000 in rent last year at its current location - and overspent its budget by more than $90,000, financial filings show.
Zardoya, while still on the charter school's board and working for the Education Department, told city officials last year that the charter was outgrowing its space.
The hearing to decide whether to close Smith High School was held Jan. 11 - and run by Taveras, who had been the chairman of the charter school's education committee. The decision to move the charter in was announced about two weeks later.
The charter has been embroiled in controversy since last June, when Arroyo - the grandson of state Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo (D-N.Y.) and the nephew of City Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo (D-Bronx) - was charged with embezzling money from the nonprofit he runs. He has resigned from the board and denies any wrongdoing.
Zardoya could not be reached for comment. Taveras, through an Ed Department spokeswoman, would not comment on how the school first got the space in Smith.
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