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De Blasio Demands Investigation of Cobble Hill Charter School

By Nikhita Venugopal | April 24, 2013 2:02pm | Updated on April 24, 2013 7:25pm

COBBLE HILL — Public Advocate Bill de Blasio is demanding an investigation into reports of inequality between a controversial neighborhood charter school and three other public schools housed in the same building.

De Blasio, who is running for mayor this year, called on the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District to examine the allegations of unequal treatment for Success Academy Cobble Hill, at 284 Baltic St., over the School for International Studies, Brooklyn School for Global Studies and Public School 368K, a special-education program, according to a press release Monday.

The Eva Moskowitz-run charter school was given “a new paint job, asbestos floor tiles were removed, new bathrooms outfitted, and new doors, carpeting, and new furniture installed,” according to a letter from Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, dated April 22.

“This is worse than unfair. Time and time again, we’ve seen a Tale of Two Cities, with resources lavished on Success Academy while traditional public schools in the same building lacked the most basic necessities,” said de Blasio, in the release.

The public advocate demanded a broad look at Success Academy’s spending on capital improvements as well as PCB — polychlorinated biphenyls — and asbestos remediation at Success Academy schools, according to de Blasio's office.

Some of the improvements at Success Academy were paid for by the charter school, while others were paid for by the Department of Education.

Success Academy spent about $340,000 on the Cobble Hill building, for upgrades including replacing PCB-infected lights in the hallway, according to the school and DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg.

The Department of Education spent an additional $350,000 in renovations on the charter school, including cabling, painting, bathroom upgrade, re-doing closets, electrical upgrades and door replacements, Feinberg said.

The DOE also spent more than $2 million on the building's public schools, in new wiring, locker rooms, a dance and fitness center, as well as creating and upgrading classrooms for students with disabilities, Feinberg said.

Success Academy released a statement slamming de Blasio, saying his criticism was invalid.

"Bill de Blasio didn't do his homework before calling his press conference," a Success Academy spokeswoman Jenny Sedlis. "The city did not remove our lighting fixtures or prioritize our schools for a PCB abatement. It's disappointing that the public advocate is asking taxpayers to foot the bill for an investigation based on erroneous claims without first trying to get any of the facts himself."

The building is scheduled to have the light system changed this summer, as a part of the DOE’s 10-year PCB-contaminated light replacement program, including the fixtures in Success Academy’s classrooms, which have yet to be changed, according to Feinberg.

This summer, 97 buildings will have light replacement projects by the New York City School Construction Authority.

But parents of the building’s public school students were outraged at the alleged unequal treatment of their schools. Coleen Mingo, whose son in the seventh grade at the School for International Studies, said she was “floored” by the reports of PCBs, a chemical that's commonly associated with acne and rashes in cases of large exposure.

And since Success Academy moved into the Cobble Hill building last summer, a number of issues have arisen between the charter and public schools.

“It is frustrating,” said Mingo. “[Success Academy] treat[s] you as if you are trespassing in their building.”

Students are only allowed to use certain staircases and water fountains, so that they don’t disturb classes at Success Academy, said Mingo.

She said the charter school has even complained because the public school children, who play outside when classes finish at 3 p.m., disturb the charter school students. Success Academy Cobble Hill, which includes kindergarten and first-graders, have class till 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., respectively, according to the charter school’s website.

The charter school’s bathroom, she said, is newly renovated, as opposed to the public schools’ bathrooms. “It’s as different as black and white,” she said.

“We have lived in this building for years,” said Mingo. “It’s crazy.”