One of the 17 new charter schools in New York City approved by the state on Wednesday will be a Success Academy in the school district that encompasses the Upper West Side and Harlem.
Set to open in the fall of 2015 in District 3, the 675-seat, K-5 School is one of the 14 new Success Academies approved by the state, and will join the five other Success Academy charter schools currently in the district.
The SUNY Charter School Committee's unanimous approval came despite opposition from some City Council members and education advocates and a petition by the Community School District 3 Council, who say the new schools could put additional pressure on already space-crunched school buildings in the district. Success Academy did not respond to a request for comment.
“That's not how democracy is supposed to work,” said District 39 City Council member Brad Lander at a Wednesday press conference outside Department of Education headquarters. “That is SUNY disrespecting the voices of public school parents.”
Still, because Success Academy has not released proposed locations for the new schools, it is unclear how this new elementary school will affect space concerns for existing schools.
“The co-location challenge is critical,” District 7 City Council member Mark Levine said. “We have horrible unmet space needs that the DOE and SUNY have been ignoring.”
The 675 new seats in District 3 will be open to all students in the city, which puts additional pressure on existing schools and school buildings, said Eduardo Hernandez of Community Education Council District 8.
“In the end, you get an overpopulated public school with no funds to improve,” Hernandez added.
At Wednesday's press conference, parents and officials from school districts cited Success Academies' enrollment data, obtained from SUNY via a Freedom of Information Law request.
The enrollment data shows 13 out of the 18 Success Academies operating during the 2013-2014 school year were under-enrolled, with four of these schools severely under-enrolled by 22 to 33 percent.
Proponents and critics of charter schools are not in agreement about whether this difference between expected and actual enrollment is due to faulty estimation figures from 2010 or a lack of demand for charter schools.
Success Academy's failure to meet projected enrollment targets violates both charter agreements and state law, opponents say.
“They're under-enrolled for sure, and yet they're taking more space,” Noah Gotbaum, vice president of Community Education Council 3, said. “We have the most overcrowded classrooms we've had in 15 years.”
The latest example of such a space crunch is an art room at the Frederick Douglass Academy II public school on West 114th Street, which was recently transferred to the co-located Harlem Success Academy II after a battle over class space last spring.
FDA II's art classes are now held in 300-square-feet former office that housed five administrative desks, DNAinfo reported. The previous art room was 500 square feet.
The DOE justified the switch by pointing to 2010 enrollment predictions, which projected HSA II to have more students than FDA II by 2014—numbers which have since been shown to be incorrect by the SUNY enrollment data. In the 2013-2014 school year, HSA II enrolled 748 students, compared with a projected 782. Meanwhile, FDA II was at its target capacity.
“FDA II still had to give up its art room,” Gotbaum said. “It's outrageous.”