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Charter School Replaced Potentially Contaminated Lights Without DOE Consent

By Nikhita Venugopal | April 25, 2013 8:32pm | Updated on April 25, 2013 10:02pm
 The school building at 284 Baltic St.
The school building at 284 Baltic St.
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DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal

COBBLE HILL — The well-funded and controversial Success Academy Cobble Hill violated Department of Education regulations by replacing potentially contaminated light fixtures without official permission, city officials confirmed.

Prior to moving into the Baltic Street building last summer, the Eva Moskowitz-run charter school replaced the light fixtures in the hallway of their school, which was outside the scope of work approved by the DOE at the time.

“We have spoken with the Success Charter Network about its contractor completing work that was not approved and will increase monitoring of their projects,” a DOE spokeswoman said in an email Thursday evening.

The entire building at 284 Baltic St., which includes Success Academy and three other public schools has "Visible Leaking PCB Ballasts," according to a list of schools on New York City School Construction Authority website, referring to the lighting system.

On Tuesday, representatives of the United Federation of Teachers met with officials from the Division of School Facilities, who are in charge of the DOE-owned building, to express their concerns.

“We are deeply concerned that unsupervised demolition work by Success Academy over the summer caused potential contamination of the school with asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs),” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew in a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, dated April 25.

The charter school declined to comment on the potentially contaminated lighting. The Cobble Hill school reportedly received 1,773 applications this year for about 100 seats.

The DOE conducted air testing immediately after the Success Academy renovation and did not find any asbestos in the school, the agency said.

The construction on the lighting was paid for by the charter school, not the DOE.

Light fixtures in the School for International Studies, Brooklyn School for Global Studies and Public School 368K, a special-education program, as well a Success Academy’s classrooms are scheduled to be changed this summer, under the DOE’s 10-year light replacement program for fixtures with PCBs, according to the DOE spokeswoman.

In the face of criticism from the UFT, Success Academy lashed out at the union on Wednesday, saying the group had entered the school's building on Tuesday and took pictures of students without the school's permission.

Eva Moskowitz, head of the charter school system, accused the UFT of “sneaking into Success Academy schools to photograph our students, teachers and classrooms,” she said, in a letter to School District Special Commissioner Richard Condon.

But Ellie Engler, UFT's director and an industrial hygienist, said the union was at the school for a meeting scheduled by the Division of School Facilities. Engler, who was present at the meeting, said she and two other UFT representatives met with the officials to discuss Success Academy’s renovation and inspect the building.

Engler said she took an iPhone photo of one of the supposedly new light fixtures but “there were no children in the picture,” she said.