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The DOE’s Problem with Math

I know how lucky I am to be a legal counsel with Success Academy Charter Schools.  I get to use my law degree to help so many children receive an amazing education, while doing work that I really enjoy.

But as much as I like my job, I get so frustrated and angry that lawyers like me even have to get involved for some issues, like the DOE’s absolute refusal to fairly divide space in one building between SA Harlem West and two district schools.  This inequity led us to file a legal action against the DOE last week to try to enforce what should have been a straightforward issue — the DOE broke its promise to provide SA Harlem West with adequate space, in violation of New York law.

As much as I like my job, I get so frustrated and angry that lawyers like me even have to get involved for some issues, like the DOE’s absolute refusal to fairly divide space in one building between SA Harlem West and two district schools.

In 2010, the DOE divided space in one building between SA Harlem West and two district schools — Wadleigh and FDA II.  The DOE gave the district schools more space than SA Harlem West because the DOE projected that each school’s enrollment would increase, and that each would enroll about 160 more kids than SA Harlem West.  So the DOE gave Wadleigh 32.25 rooms and FDA II 25 rooms. But SA Harlem West got only 21.5 rooms.

Still, the DOE explicitly promised in a document called a Building Utilization Plan that the DOE would revisit its room assignments in the building if the district schools’ enrollments didn’t increase as projected.  In other words, if the district schools didn’t grow as quickly as the DOE expected, then the DOE would give SA Harlem West more space.

The district schools’ enrollments didn’t grow at all — they shrank.  But SA Harlem West did grow. It now enrolls about one-third of the kids in the building and will continue to add more over time, but it has only about one-fourth of the building’s space.

New York state law requires the DOE to comply with its Building Utilization Plan and to follow through on its promise to divide space fairly, based on the relative enrollment of each of the three schools in the building.  According to the law, the DOE must apply the same standards to all schools whenever the DOE allocates space.

But the DOE has broken its promise and violated the law.  In fact, the DOE has refused to assign more space to SA Harlem West even though the building has about 500 empty seats that could be used for that very purpose.

Instead, the DOE has issued a new proposal that would make the problem even worse by:

  • Forcing Harlem West to squeeze 14 more kids into each room at scale than one of the district schools.
  • Taking space away from Harlem West, the one school in the building that is growing.
  • Giving more rooms to one of the district schools, even though that school’s enrollment is decreasing.
  • Removing just three rooms from the other district school, even though three of that school’s entire grades are closing, and enrollment for the few remaining grades has consistently declined.  The DOE claims that the school should lose only three rooms because the DOE is somehow now projecting that the school’s high school enrollment will more than double, even though the school has continued to lose students year after year.


Finally, instead of giving even those three classrooms to SA Harlem West children, the DOE has proposed using those rooms for a Family Welcome Center — an administrative office that is already up and running about ten blocks away.

This is a transparent attempt to deny SA Harlem West children space to learn.  Equity, the Building Utilization Plan, and New York state law demand that the DOE give SA Harlem West additional space.  It’s disappointing that the DOE has refused to follow these basic principles, leaving us no choice but to file a legal action to help the children of SA Harlem West.

We must protest this inequity on multiple fronts. The legal case is not enough. We must  do all we can to get our kids equal treatment. It is important that we demonstrate our collective power and demand to be treated fairly. Please call (347) 894-2312 to be patched through to the Mayor’s office to share your story and demand equitable space. Please take this critical action so that our kids get the space they need and deserve.

Written by Aaron Safane March 30, 2018


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