NYC charter schools confab avoids heart of conflict

Mayor Bill de Blasio is shown at a Mayor Bill de Blasio is shown at a press conference in the Blue Room at City Hall on Feb. 21, 2014. Photo Credit: Bryan Smith

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Foes in the battle over charter schools formally met for the first time Saturday since the inauguration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is considering charging some of the schools rent and imposing a moratorium on housing them in traditional city-owned school buildings.

The two-hour breakfast meeting between de Blasio's schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, and about 100 charter school officials was closed to the public.

Steven Zimmerman, founder of the Academy of the City charter school in Queens, said there was "a purposeful avoidance of policy talk."

Charter schools are generally funded with public money, and some get private funding, too. They are managed independent of the city school system and often of unions.

The two sides did not discuss policy, Fariña told reporters afterward, saying the confab was intended only to "open dialogue, to hear what they have on their mind, for them to know who I am.

"I asked them to tell me how their schools are different and special, and many of them shared innovative ideas that they're working on," she said. "There were no decisions made today, no statements of policy, but a lot of good will generated," Fariña said.

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Fariña said the meeting in a Financial District high-rise was meant to help "lessen the rhetoric around the stuff that's happening now."

But while James Merriman, chief executive of the nonprofit New York City Charter School Center, called the meeting "productive," he emerged sounding less conciliatory. He wants answers about housing charters in city school buildings, known as co-locating, and other issues.

"What I want to say to the mayor, I guess, is simply this -- I have a simple question for him: Can he look every parent in the eye who expects to send their child to these schools in the fall and say to them, 'The school that I will now force you to go to is going to be better than the school I am taking away from you'?"

Eva Moskowitz, an ex-City Council member who heads Success Academy Charter Schools, sent out a statement after she left, assailing the administration's "lack of transparency in their decision-making."

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