HARLEM — A plan by the Department of Education to co-locate two Harlem Success Academy schools inside a building that already houses four other schools could cost the district $11 million in federal grant money for magnet schools, opponents said of the proposal.
Opponents say that moving the fifth-grade classes of Eva Moskowitz's Harlem Success Academy Charter School 2 and 3 into the school at 111th Street between Lenox and Fifth avenues would force the existing schools in the building to cap enrollment because of the reduced space.
As a result, critics fear, P.S. 185 Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet School and P.S. 208 Alaine L. Locke Magnet School for Environmental Stewardship would be prevented from meeting the enrollment goals outlined in the three-year, $11 million federal grant, which currently serves approximately 3,000 students in Harlem.
"The DOE is not taking care of our public schools and is favoring charter schools," said Noah Gotbaum, chair of Community Education Council 3's charter and overcrowding committee. "We are going to lose choice for 3,000 kids in favor of 150 kids."
The magnet grant, which has been in place for about a year and a half, covers eight schools in Community Education Council 3. The schools receive the assistance to develop programs and recruit students to increase diversity over a three-year period.
The grant calls for each school to have a pool of at least 65 applicants per year, with the goal of increasing diversity at the school by reducing the high number of minority students.
DOE officials strongly disagree with the notion that the co-locations will put the magnet school grant money at risk.
DOE spokesman Frank Thomas acknowledged that the federal grant language includes enrollment goals, but said the schools are in no danger of losing the funds as a result of co-location.
"[Increased enrollment] is not a requirement," Thomas said. "It's about increasing diversity, not the size of the school. That's not the purpose of a magnet grant."
The DOE also said the building housing P.S. 189 and P.S. 205 is only at 79 percent capacity, as there are currently 774 kids at the school which under the DOE estimation should be able to house 983 students.
The Harlem Success schools would add anywhere from 140 to 155 students in the 2012 school year.
"Space in the city is tight," Thomas added. "There is a limited amount of space."
Parents who are in favor of the charter school co-location said the existing schools should be willing to share the space.
"If the school can accommodate more students, why not?" asked Tabitha Leon-Avila, 35, an office manager whose daughter attends fourth grade at Harlem Success Academy, and would move into the building if the plan is approved.
"These are kids from the same community," she said.
Supporters of the local district schools, however, say they feel the DOE favors Moskowitz's chain of high-performing charter schools over district schools.
"It's about money, not about the children or the ABC's," said state Senator Bill Perkins, who attended the DOE hearing on the plan Thursday night. Perkins called the motivation to put the charter schools inside the building, "real estate deals."
P.S. 185 PTA president Florence Gayagoy said her school is one of the few in the area that focuses on early-childhood education. The school is zoned as an early-childhood school that serves kids in kindergarten through second grade and offers full-day pre-K.
Gayagoy led parents in a chant of "stop the squeeze" in the hallways of the school.
"For them coming here, this will be Harlem excess," she said.
The Panel for Educational Policy will vote on the changes March 21 at 6 p.m at the High School of Fashion Industries, 225 W. 24th St.