Charter school hearings: a study in evasion and ambiguity

Maybe they’re called for in law, but the one I went to last Wednesday in District 4 was a flimsy affair.

Here is what I found on the charter school hearing law (underline mine), and someone can correct me if I’m mistaken:

And this is why it is a sham:

We were not told when the applications for the new charter schools (Hyde Leadership and Mott Hall) were submitted, so we don’t know this happened within the 30 days or not. The only thing we were told was that they weren’t signed off on yet. It is not possible to submit any “records or comments generated from the hearing” to the State Ed Dept because (a) no minutes were being taken (see below), and (b) the people running it were not taping it. The law asks that “any and all written records” must be submitted, but it doesn’t say these are actuallky required. I see this as a nice loophole these people either willfully or ignorantly slipped themselves through, in their continued abuse of process.

Here’s some things that did happen at the meeting, because I did take notes. Maybe I will submit them to the State Ed department. Please note that where I use quotes, I got the words down pretty verbatim. The rest is reconstruction from snippets.

The agenda showed two schools were going to make presentations: Hyde Leadership and Mott Hall, even though our advance notice on this hearing said a number of Harlem Success Academies would also be there. When we asked what happened to them, the district superintendent (a nice woman running the meeting) said HSA was “put on hold.”

Sandra Dupree (right) of Hyde spoke of how the school “creates a culture,” specifically a “character culture.” Catherine Molloy of Mott Hall also spoke of a “school culture,” excellence and rigor, and a couple of programs the school buys into: Avid, what they call “The Sanctuary” (sounds religious, doesn’t it? It’s about “emotional safety” of all the adults and students in the “culture”), and Technology. She also said the school must have a longer school day and year: there’s “no way it works without this.”

(So far, nothing in here any public school couldn’t do without a vision and lots more money.)

Parent and ACORN member Annette Jimenez (pictured below at the WFP mayoral debate) asked: “Why do they expand at the expense of our own kids? Charters only service 2% of our kids. They don’t service special ed and pre-schoolers.” She was worried about disparate treatment. Michael Duffy, head of the whole charter schools department for the DoE, responded “You are not being displaced,” which to anyone is a boldface lie. Look at every floor in every public school that’s absorbed a charter and tell me there’s no displacement. And you may as well look at Michael Duffy’s picture (left) in case you run into him at another meeting.

A public school principal in the district who said there is a charter in her building and she was never informed it was coming, said: “We’re learning to dance this dance. I’m concerned about them pushing us out of the way.” She asked of the charter reps: “What is the difference in emphasis [with charters]?” One of the Mott Hall people said, and I quote this verbatim: “Private education with government funding” — which is the way we all feel about the disparate treatment our kids are getting. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Community activist and parent Bill Hargraves announced to Duffy and everyone else in the room that he never returned any of his numerous calls. Duffy had no answer for this, though I understand they were able to arrange a meeting in the next days. One of the Mott Hall people said they “have no idea of the space” for these schools yet. Annette Jimenez (above right) claimed that the Harlem Success Academy schools have already been approved. Duffy shook his head No.

GEM member Angel Gonzalez (right) asked for a show of hands on how many in the room oppose the charterization of District 4. To say the majority put their hands up would be an understatement. Gonzalez spoke of the racist pattern going on, blaming teachers for the demise of schools, the charters being private schools without the voice of the Community School Boards or unions, that many democratic structures are being bypassed. “These are separate, disparate institutions.”

Bill Hargraves asked if minutes should be taken. Duffy didn’t care to answer that and remained silent. When Hargraves pushed, Duffy came out with something like he’s not willing to interpret the laws. Then he said: “Nobody has the responsibility” of taking notes. (Thank goodness I was there to help out.) Bill asked Duffy to appoint someone, and he refused.

One person asked what the projected breakdown of the schools would be once the kids were assigned there, which opened up a whole issue of the lottery selection process. One of the charter people was adamant that it was strict, with equal chance, but then added “they have to give preference to the districts they’re serving.” No longer sounds like equal chance to me.

Mott Hall’s projections were: 59% latino, 39% African American, 14% special ed, and 12% ELLs. I had to ask how they could claim lottery when they knew what percentages would be in effect when the process was over. They said these percentages were based on the community profile, not what would end up in the school. I responded that the figures would then be meaningless, because if it were true lottery, the school could perhaps end up with 100% latino and no special ed.

That’s when another of the charter reps tried to “re-explain” the lottery process. He said they pick a kid, and put the name in a category, then they pick another kid and put that name in that one’s category, and so on, til the percentages are reached. I was aghast and said that wasn’t lottery. Michael Duffy said there’s a “list maintained by a mailhouse.” It is not sent out selectively, it’s “not possible that they’re sent out selectively.” He added: “Maybe only the parents of levels 3 and 4 responded” to the mailing. Folks, take your pick — straight lottery, or lottery fiction — either way, we don’t know what’s going on, we won’t know, and you can’t trust any of these people to either know or say.

I think it was a principal who asked if the charters were going to have a 12:1:1 class and whether they would openly ask for these kids and then send them back to the public school when they couldn’t accommodate them. She said that there were more than 10 kids she had to take back into her public school because the charter school could not/would not service them even though they accepted them. (Considerations of elevators, vision, etc.)

Before the meeting had started, I asked a 20-something DoE person if the staff of the charters are UFT members or not. He said the charter schools don’t “interest” themselves in matters like that. (Wow.) When I asked whether the contracts with these staff members are available online, he didn’t know. Later in the meeting, though, when the subject of union came up again, Duffy said that with regard to collective bargaining, 10 charters have UFT members teaching in them. It’s up to the charter school how they want to do this.

A union rep told me the union is working on the contractual situation, but I couldn’t get any further information from Duffy or anyone else. They told me if I want to find these contracts, go to the UFT website, which I did. The only current document I see there is the Green Dot contract (Aug. 2008 – Aug 2011), which I’ll put up in another post. (You can get it as a pdf from Edwize here.) If anyone knows where we can find the other contracts, please let us know, because I’m sure they’ll be interesting. Duffy couldn’t care less.

I forgot what time the meeting ended, but we kept talking to the reps from the Hyde and Mott Hall out on the pavement. Nice people. Good values, except a few: laws are being broken, schools are getting disparate treatment, and we are somehow re-configuring segregationist structures on a grand scale.

— jw


2 thoughts on “Charter school hearings: a study in evasion and ambiguity

  1. I once contacted the people at SED where Duffy is supposed to send comments; they said basically that they have no way of enforcing the law on this.

    Ridiculous. I suggest you send your observations to Sheila Evans-Tranumn and the new commissioner of SED.

    Posted by Leonie Haimson | August 6, 2009, 5:02 pm
  2. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Posted by Abagale | September 3, 2009, 7:09 am

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