The city is gearing up to give away more than one third of a top-notch Boerum Hill middle school to a politically connected charter school company — and parents say it will stretch facilities thin and undermine a rare program for autistic students.
Eva Moskowitz — a former Councilwoman who runs the multi-million dollar not-for-profit, Success Charter Network — announced last week she wants to open a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school in Brownstone Brooklyn next fall, saying the “need for more better schools” and “underutilized buildings” in the area makes it a perfect fit.
But only two buildings in the neighborhood have enough space to accommodate the 800-student public charter school, according to the Department of Education: The School for International Studies on Baltic and Court streets or the MS 447 building on Dean Street and Third Avenue.
Parents at MS 447 are pushing back, saying that the 1,200-odd students currently at the building — which houses the High School of the Arts and the so-called NEST Program for autistic kids — already attend 30-student classes and compete for gym, auditorium and cafeteria space.
“This is an A-listed school and we want to keep it that way,” said Michelle Ifill-Williams, the co-president of the Parent Teacher Association, explaining that students eat lunch in rotating cafeteria shifts that begin at 10:10 am. “How can we possibly be successful when we’re already this tight for space?”
Parents also point out that autistic students in the small-but-respected sixth-through-eighth-grade program may suffer: They’re now integrated into regular, but smaller, classroom settings with about 20-students — which could grow if another school moves in.
“It will jeopardize the program’s success,” said Ifill-Williams.
The city says that the MS 447 building has 654 “seats” and the nearby School for International studies has about 690 seats.
A Department of Education spokesman said the city is “interested” in MS 447 for the new Success Charter Network school, but a decision has not been made.
Moskowitz’s charter schools, which she describes as “a public school independent of the bureaucracy,” are run by an independent board, which allows for a more flexible structure and curriculum than district schools.
The one that Moskowitz hopes to open would start next fall with 190 kindergarten and first graders and would grow by one grade each year until it’s a full K-8 school. Students will be chosen using a lottery system and are not required to take a test to get accepted.
It’s not the first time MS 447 — which is located in District 15 and is sometimes called the “Math and Science Exploratory School” — has engaged in a battle for space. In 2007, the city housed the smaller-but-more-controversial Khalil Gibran International Academy in the building. That experiment lasted only one year.
The city has not yet analyzed the physical space at the facilities that Moskowitz is eyeing, but the former Councilwoman — whose non-profit company pays her $250,000 annually — is already jockeying in hopes of rallying support.
“At first there are a lot of fears, so it’s important to meet and talk with people about it,” said Moskowitz. “A lot of rumors fly.”
To dispel such rumors and fears, Moskowitz’s company hired a high-profile PR firm to bang out a press release claiming that 1,500 Cobble Hill residents signed a petition to support a charter school in the neighborhood. Her company also spent $16,000 on a high-powered lobbyist.
Moskowitz added that she’s eyeing MS 447 because of the available seats.
“We don’t go into schools that are crunched for space,” she said.
Her words aren’t calming local parents — who began circulating e-mails and memos last week after Moskowitz’s PR firm announced the company plan.
“Space ought to be carefully thought out,” said a parent of a special-needs child. “It’s all very alarming.”