‘Excessive and Out of Control:’ 22 School Closures in New York City

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Reporter
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
March 11, 2013 Updated: September 29, 2015

NEW YORK—A proposal to halt two contentious education practices in New York City—school closings and co-locations—fell short at a public education hearing Monday night.

Four members of the Panel for Education Policy, the city’s school board, introduced a resolution calling for the DOE to immediately stop both controversial policies.  Dmytro Fedkowskyj, one of the three and the Queens board representative, said the number of schools up for closure this month, 22, is “excessive and out of control.”

The board voted eight to three against the resolution, with one abstention.

[Related: Mayor Has Too Much Power Over NYC School System, Say Critics]

Mayor Michael Bloomberg maintains mayoral control over the city’s school system, and the board is considered a rubber stamp because he appoints eight of the 13 members. All eight of Bloomberg’s appointees voted against the resolution.

School closures—a method Bloomberg has employed to try and boost struggling schools—have rankled a range of those in the education sector, including teachers.

Critics say the policy doesn’t properly gauge how schools are doing and disrupts both students and teachers instead of helping them improve. School closings typically give rise to new, smaller schools.

Another aspect of Bloomberg’s control over city schools that has increasingly rankled critics is co-location—where a new school moves into an existing school building. The new schools are usually charter schools. Some buildings have three or four schools, causing an atmosphere that pits the schools against each other in competition for resources and students, say critics.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and other officials representing the city’s Department of Education contend school closings help revive education in struggling areas and that co-locations are usually harmonious arrangements that benefit all the schools involved.

Charter schools, originally designed for innovation, have become laggard, their boards controlled by private interests that aren’t concerned with educational quality, said Patrick Sullivan, representing Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Also, poorer students and those with lower grades have been spurned from charters more often.

“We call for a moratorium until these issues can be resolved,” Sullivan said.

On the other hand, Marc Sternberg, a deputy chancellor, said the closures are only arrived at after six months of engaging with parents and faculty at the schools deemed struggling. As a result, while 22 are slated for closure, more than 150 went through an intervention process and will remain open for now.

The meeting was marked by an audience that often heckled the DOE officials on stage. At times the crowd became so loud that board members and DOE officials had to put on headphones so they could hear who was speaking. Sometimes that wasn’t enough, and the speaker had to stop talking, waiting for the noise to subside.

Teachers and others spoke to the board during the meeting, all of them railing against school closings and co-locations.

[Related: YC Mayoral Candidates’ Education Views, Simplified]

In the end, Walcott said that while DOE officials exert much effort in trying to not close schools, and listen to teachers and parents, ultimately the decision is up to him.

“At the end of the day, the decision is mine,” he said.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.