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SUNY Blames 'Administrative Error' for Success Academy Confusion

By Lisha Arino | October 16, 2014 9:51am
 Students (L to R, front row) Lamine Cisse, Marjery Pacheco, and Mia McNair sit quietly and wait for their teacher at Harlem Success Academy.
Students (L to R, front row) Lamine Cisse, Marjery Pacheco, and Mia McNair sit quietly and wait for their teacher at Harlem Success Academy.
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Chris Hondros/Getty Images

MANHATTAN — SUNY Charter Schools officials scrambled to explain this week's confusion over their apparent thumbs-up for a new Success Academy school's planned move to the Lower East Side or upper Manhattan after approving it for a completely different location — saying it was a clerical error.

Parents, elected officials and advocates were up in arms on Tuesday after DNAinfo reported that SUNY Charter School Institute had approved Success Academy's application to open an elementary school in District 2, which covers the West Side of Manhattan and parts of the Upper East Side, had been amended to move the school into Districts 1 or 6, which cover the LES and uptown.

The application for the school, which is yet unnamed, was listed as slated for Districts 1 or 6 on SUNY Charter School Institute's website until Tuesday evening, when the state yanked the list of approved schools down and replaced it with one that read the school was approved for District 2.

According to SUNY’s spokesman, David Doyle, the online document was incorrect and had been posted online without proper approval.

“It was simply an administrative error. It was incorrect and we apologize. As soon as it was brought to our attention, it was fixed immediately,” he said Wednesday.

Doyle could not explain why the new list of approved schools was no longer linked from SUNY's website or how the error occurred. 

He could also not explain why SUNY changed the listing back to District 2 days after SUNY Charter Schools Institute Executive Director Susan Miller Barker announced at an Oct. 8 public hearing that SUNY was already aware of the planned move and had no problem with it.

“Originally [Success Academy] had indicated … that they hoped to locate the school in CSD 2 but they had done some additional analysis of where in New York City the school might be located and I think now it’s not going to be in CSD 2 but in fact either CSD 1 or 6,” Miller Barker told those present at the meeting, according to a videotaped record of the meeting posted on SUNY's website.

However, Doyle said it's "standard practice" for charter schools to be able to change their planned locales after getting state approval. He said that because the school would be located in the same borough, Success Academy doesn't have to reapply before the planned move. He could not say what if any public hearings would take place regarding the school's new site.

Success Academy had to host a public meeting in District 2 in September to get public input about their planned new school, according to SUNY Charter Institute.

Doyle said the process is “completely open and transparent and is governed by the rules and processes laid out under the Charter School Act.”

“It’s very unfortunate that this administrative mistake is pointed to as evidence of something untoward when the fact of the matter is, [Success Academy] applied for [District] 2, were approved for 2 and what was on the web was an error and a mistake and we apologize,” he said, adding that all the application materials used by the trustees to evaluate the charter applications are available online, he said, and the charter approval hearings are webcast.

“There is nothing there that we aren’t telling you.”

Success Academy did not respond to a request for comment.

The convoluted explanation did not assuage critics of the charter school process.

The incident, local leaders said, is an example of how the charter application process lacks transparency.

“Instead of responding in good faith to our letter — or responding at all — SUNY has chosen to distort the issue by altering its own published documents,” City Councilwoman Margaret Chin said in a statement.

“This is truly indicative of the concerns education advocates, including myself and many of my Council colleagues, continue to have regarding the transparency and openness of SUNY’s charter review process.”

In a letter sent to SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall on Oct. 14, officials and education advocates criticized the state’s decision to allow Success Academy to change its application to site a school in District 2 — which covers Lower Manhattan, much of the west side and the Upper East Side — so that it could open in Districts 1 or 6.

Lisa Donlan, the president of Community Education Council District 1, said “They basically showed that we were right to raise an uproar.”