State won't OK Brentwood charter school

A group of community members have put in A group of community members have put in an application to start a charter school in Brentwood. (Sept. 21, 2011) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

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A state panel has decided against supporting a proposed charter school in Brentwood that community leaders worried would siphon money from the strapped school district.

An official from New York City-based Victory Education Partners, a consultancy firm that helped draft the application, said it plans to revamp the proposal for Suffolk County Prep.

"We plan to resubmit at the soonest opportunity," said James Stovall, Victory's chief executive.

Joseph Bond, superintendent of Brentwood schools, applauded the state's decision. "We are pleased with that because we felt that this application and that this group might have had a detrimental effect upon the community," Bond said, adding the district would welcome a discussion about another charter school as long as it does not negatively impact the district's finances. The school district, he said, lost $40 million in state aid and laid off about 100 teachers in the past two years.

The application was rejected by the SUNY Charter Schools Institute, which could have recommended the plan to the State University of New York trustees for consideration.

But Casey Vattimo, a SUNY spokeswoman, said in an email that "the proposal to establish the Suffolk County Prep Charter School will not be moving any further in the review process." She did not provide details on the decision.

Stovall said SUNY officials told him the application, which was submitted in August, was stalled because of concerns over the school's "governing structure, academic program and accountability platform."

Stovall's group provides teacher recruitment, administrative coaches, accounting work and other services.

The company would have earned 10 percent of Suffolk Prep's funding for five years, about $2.2 million in total.

"Our mission is all about creating good schools," said Stovall, before the decision was rendered.

Charter schools have become increasingly popular as confidence in public education has waned, but Alan Singer, a public school advocate and director of secondary education social studies at Hofstra University, said charter schools often "weaken support for public schools while not providing anyone with a better education."

Nancy Rivera, a social worker who became involved in July and was the lead person on the application to SUNY, said she sought a charter school in Brentwood after learning of the district's poor graduation rate. Five of the district's 17 schools are listed by the state as needing academic improvement.

The school would have accommodated up to 438 students in grades 5-8. Dozens of meetings were held throughout the area this summer to inform parents about the charter school application, Stovall said. A survey and supportive signatures were collected from community members, he said.

State Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) said he would be "open to the idea of a charter in Brentwood if our public schools were being funded adequately. Directing funding to any other school at this time would be tantamount to disinvesting in our public schools."

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