City Still in Control of Charter Schools Despite State Laws, Mayor Says

By Colby Hamilton on April 2, 2014 10:43am 

 Mayor Bill de Blasio held a roundtable discussion on the state budget with reporters at City Hall on April 1, 2014.
Mayor Bill de Blasio held a roundtable discussion on the state budget with reporters at City Hall on April 1, 2014.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

CIVIC CENTER —  The city will continue to have control over charter colocation decisions despite state legislation that would force it to provide rent-free space in public buidings, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

“The colocation process that existed under the previous administration is over," he said Tuesday as part of a roundtable discussion.

"There’s going to be a new process that’s going to be more equitable and all the actions taken by the state don’t contradict that."

After the mayor denied three of eight Success Academy charter school co-locations in February, the charter group’s CEO Eva Moskowitz found a champion in Governor Andrew Cuomo, who promised to support the privately-run, publically funded schools in the budget process.

As a result, the city is now obligated to find space for charter schools in public facilities, or be forced to cover as much as $40 million in rent for the schools. The city also cannot force charters to pay rent, as de Blasio had threatened to do.

“Clearly in the state legislation there were different additional steps added, but if you look it’s quite clear the action begins with us and is framed by the actions of the City of New York and our city department of education," de Blasio said.

De Blasio said that far from a rebuke of his attempts to reign in charter schools,  the state budget represented a step forward for his reform agenda. He cited new rules included as part of the budget that now allows charters to be audited.

“I think when everyone feels like there’s one set of standards, I think it will make the whole system work better,” he said.

De Blasio also focused on the $300 million dollars allocated for universal pre-kindergarten in the budget.

He called securing the funds “a lift-off moment for this administration” and expressed certainty that Albany would come through with additional funds to support the program expansion in coming years.

“Once we get started in September we are not turning back,” de Blasio said, referring to the partial expansion of pre-kindergarten in the coming school year.

Still, he reiterated his warning that “all options are on the table” if the current funding situation should change for any reason.

That would include returning to Albany to push for the tax hike on upper income earners in the city that he failed to get in this budget, he said.

He also said he remained confident his plans to expand afterschool programs in middle schools would proceed, thanks to a “substantial” amount of funds allocated by the state.

But de Blasio also revealed his contingency plan for afterschool funding should the city not be allotted enough cash. He said the city would dip into its own coffers to make up the difference.

“As we assess what’s really available to us, we’re going to come up with ways to figure out, if we need something else, how to do it,” he said.

The efforts to get the funding for his programs in Albany was at times bruising for the new mayor, who saw politics over charter schools seep into already tough negotiations on his education agenda.

But de Blasio said he's on good terms with Cuomo.

“He has a job to do, and I have a job to do,” he said. “We had some disagreements... but we also had some very substantial areas of agreement, and we got a lot done.”

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