April 14, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Whether cutting him off at the knees or downright beheading him – opponents of charter school expansion say that Governor Andrew Cuomo has effectively boxed out progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio and set the stage for “academic apartheid in New York City.”
“The governor has essentially cut off the head of Bill de Blasio in being able to make decisions when it comes to public schools,” Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters told LaborPress this week.
Haimson and a growing coalition of parents, teachers and elected officials are charging charter schools with hijacking space inside already struggling public schools, and destroying educational opportunities for the vast majority of New York City students.
On Thursday, protesters carrying placards denouncing the governor as a sell-out and depicting him as a green monster gobbling up classrooms, rallied in front of the New York Public Library at 5th Avenue and 41st Street.
“[The governor] cut [the mayor] off at the knees in a power play that he didn’t have to make,” said Paula Cunningham, a teacher at PS M811 in Manhattan. “Now it’s going to be like ‘a tale of two school systems.’ It’s like apartheid, New York City.”
Critics fear that if Albany is ultimately allowed to succeed in its aims, New York City will be forced to make more space for charter schools inside already cramped public school buildings. Either that, or pay rent for private space someplace else.
"Charter schools have more say over what happens in our public school than the mayor of the City of New York,“ said fomer City Council contender and rally organizer Noah Gotbaum.
Charter school critics point out that thousands of public school kids are already attending classes inside portable trailers, while others do not have ready access to gymnasiums, science labs or libraries.
“The only city in the State of New York that is required to give that space is New York City,” said David Goldsmith, president, District 13 Community Education Council. “If they did that in Syracuse or Buffalo, or anywhere else, they’d bankrupt their systems. Their systems would go belly up.”
Tinya Smith, PA president at CS200, also in Manhattan, attacked charter schools for indirectly siphoning off money meant for public schools kids.
"There's no funding," Smith said. "That means a lot of programs get taken out of our schools – and that's not right."
Councilman Daniel Dromm [D-Council District 25], chair of the Committee on Education and a school teacher for 25 years, said that “academic apartheid in New York City” will not be tolerated.
“We don’t want a separate and unequal school system in New York City,” the Queens legislator said. “It is totally unfair when you create two school systems: one for the haves, and one for the have-nots.”
The space-sharing edict is especially galling to those who maintain that New York City public school kids are still being shortchainged despite the outcome of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.
Former Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson originally helped launch the Campaign for Fiscal Equity back in 1993, and continues the fight today.
“The governor has truly shown his colors to the hedge fund people,” Jackson said. “Money is going to be spent where it was not being spent before – even though the governor and the State of New York are not meeting their obligations under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. That’s why our attorney Michael Rebell, has filed another lawsuit against the state for not meeting the minimum allocations under the law.”
Jackson also said that the state legislature should have stood up to the governor during budget negotiations.
“The state legislature could have stood up to the governor and said funding public education is so important that we will not pass a state budget unless you fund education like you’re supposed to,” Jackson said.
State Senator Brad Holyman [D-Senate District 27], one of a scant number of legislators who voted no on the budget deal, suggested that Albany is simply attempting to limit Mayor de Blasio’s progressive agenda.
“About 10 years ago, the powers-that-be told us we needed mayoral control [of schools],” State Senator Holyman said.
“Now, that they don’t like the results, they want to take away local control. That is wrong.”
Haimson called the turnaround nothing short of a political "coup."
"It has been devastating to see how quick and bloodless it has been," Haimson said. "For many years, the-powers-that be pushed mayoral control and said the mayor should be in charge of space utilization and co-locations,” Haimson said. “But when we overwhelmingly elected a mayor who is against giving away space to charters, they basically overruled him.”
State Senator Liz Krueger [D, WF-Senate District 28], said the budget deal that compels New York City to make room for charter schools “shouldn’t have happened,” and that opponents must now fight to rescind it.
“I was extremely disappointed in the bill and what happened,” the state senator said. “There where good things in the bill, and there were some really horrible sections. I think people are here today to protest the horrible sections. We will try to undue it. That’s the best we can do at this point.”