Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Malcolm Smith says charter school was squeezed, but Peninsula Preparatory Academy denies it

Wednesday, March 24th 2010, 4:00 AM

Charter school sponsored by Senate President Malcolm Smith,  Peninsula Preparatory Academy, moved to property owned by a top campaign  contributor.

Noonan, DelMundo for News

Charter school sponsored by Senate President Malcolm Smith, Peninsula Preparatory Academy, moved to property owned by a top campaign contributor.

School officials don't believe Senate President Malcolm Smith's claim that a charter school he founded was forced out of a public school into fenced-in trailers that resemble a prison.

"There was no reason to move to those cages," said Claude Monereau, principal of Middle School 53 in Far Rockaway, the building that housed Smith's charter school, Peninsula Preparatory Academy.

Monereau's comments follow a Sunday Daily News report that revealed Peninsula moved out of MS 53 into trailers on property being developed by one of Smith's top campaign donors. The developer uses the school as a selling point to hawk his houses.

Confronted by reporters, Smith claimed the developers' needs had nothing to do with the move. Instead, he said Peninsula asked MS 53 for more space due to expanding enrollment, and that MS 53 and the Department of Education turned them down.

DOE spokesman Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said the school never requested to expand, and Monereau said there was no reason to move. Monereau said MS 53 had plenty of room when Peninsula moved out in 2008.

"Smith claimed the school moved because there was not enough space. That's baloney," Monereau said. "I don't know what they're talking about. Before they left, we walked through the building in June. We thought that they were going to stay."

"There must have been something cooking. How are you going to leave a school and put those children in those cages?"

At MS 53, Peninsula also had access to a new $500,000 science lab, a new $1 million playground, a cafeteria and a gym.

The cramped trailers have no science lab, no playground and the "gym" is two rooms within a trailer that also serves as auditorium and cafeteria.

"It's the kids who are suffering," Monereau said. "They put their interests ahead."

Smith - who declined to comment Tuesday - also had claimed he was not involved in selecting the site where the trailers are located. Monereau said Smith was quite involved in Peninsula's affairs.

"There were many occasions that I would see Smith, he was on the premises several times. I would sit down and talk with him about the school expanding," he recalled.

Questions have also arisen about Smith's version of how Peninsula wound up in MS 53 in the first place. In his application for Peninsula's charter back in 2004, Smith claimed the school would be moving into a former yeshiva in Far Rockaway.

The school was going to hire his former business partner, Darryl Green, to upgrade the facility. That deal fell apart "over money," Smith's spokesman, Austin Shafran, told The News.

Building owner Daisy Johnson disputed that version of events. At the time Smith was claiming Peninsula was going to move in, Johnson was in contract to buy the building on Central Ave.

Johnson and her husband said they never spoke to anyone involved in the charter school about locating in the yeshiva.

"I occupy the whole building for my day care center and after-school program," she said.

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