The founder of a Brooklyn charter school locked in a battle for space with a district school announced yesterday that the school has signed a contract for its own building site.
But Spencer Robertson, founder of the PAVE Academy Charter School, declined to reveal the new location. Nor would he give a date for when the school would move there, instead re-iterating his request for a two-year extension to the school’s contentious site-sharing agreement with P.S. 15 in Red Hook.
“We will be out,” Robertson told a standing-room-only crowd in the auditorium of P.S. 15. “When?” shouted audience members.
The exchange came during an emotional District 15 CEC meeting to which charter school advocates and critics mobilized their most vocal allies. Audience members interrupted speakers, and those who approached the microphone seemed to compete over who could drown out the other groups’ claims.
PAVE Academy Charter School opened last year with 88 students in P.S. 15 despite fierce resistance from parents and teachers at the district school. According to the original agreement, PAVE would stay at the school until the close of the 2009-2010 school year.
But over the summer, PAVE administrators announced that they would seek an extension to allow time for construction on the school’s new space. The request sparked fears that the charter might stay and grow in P.S. 15 indefinitely, squeezing the district school.
Parents and teachers from P.S. 15 waved signs calling on the Department of Education to deny PAVE Academy’s request to stay housed in P.S. 15 until 2012, two years longer than originally agreed. PAVE parents and teachers donned the school’s blue t-shirts and clustered together in one half of the auditorium.
One P.S. 15 supporter claimed that PAVE’s students are not from the surrounding community, prompting shouts of “yes, they are!” from PAVE parents. A PAVE supporter argued that the charter school has as much right to the school building as P.S. 15, eliciting loud boos from the other half of the room.
Adding to the dispute were concerns that the education department is doling out preferential treatment to the charter school because of Robertson’s connections to the Bloomberg administration. Robertson’s father Julian’s grant foundation has donated more than $10 million to Bloomberg’s school initiatives.
Education department representative Courtney McNally said that the DOE followed a “more vague” timeline for approving charter school space extension requests than the formal process a charter goes through in their initial bid for shared space. “Ultimately, the decision will be made by the chancellor,” she said. The department would be in further touch with the CEC, she added.
After the meeting, Robertson told me that he wasn’t comfortable revealing the location of the school’s new site because the school is still in a 120-day due diligence process before closing on a deal that could still fall through. The school will be razing an existing building and beginning new construction, he said, and so also could not commit to a firm timeline for leaving P.S. 15.
District 15 president Jim Devor said that he had wanted the first CEC meeting of the year to center on the charter school siting process more generally, rather than a direct forum on the P.S. 15 building. “But we deliberately set it at P.S. 15 because we knew this would be the center of the firestorm,” he said. “Obviously emotions ran high.”