SUNY trustees are rushing to approve a whopping 50% increase in the annual per-pupil management fee the state pays to one of the city’s biggest and most controversial charter school operators.
Under the plan, the Success Charter Network, run by former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz, will see its management fee jump from $1,350 to $2,000 for each pupil enrolled at its five schools in the Harlem area.
Moskowitz, who currently runs 11 charter schools throughout the city, has made no secret of her plans to expand that number.
The jump in her network’s management fees from 10% to 15% of total state aid per child, however, would place it nearly on a par with fees charged by the city’s few for-profit charter operators.
One study of charter management firms two years ago found that nonprofit networks averaged 9% in fees, while for-profit firms averaged 17%.
The increase for the Success Network is being carried out in a stealth manner, as is an accompanying proposal to reorganize its five Harlem schools — Harlem Success Academy 1 to 5 — under a single nonprofit corporation, even though they are located in three separate community school districts.
Moskowitz submitted a formal application in March to both the state and the city to amend her charters for the five schools, according to documents obtained by the Daily News.
But it was not until a week ago, on the evening of April 17, that the DOE informed local parents and community education councils by email that a hearing to solicit comments on the proposal would be held three days later.
“When we asked to see the actual proposal, we were told we would have to file a Freedom of Information (Act) request,” Noah Gotbaum of the District 3 Community Education Council on the upper West Side said.
“How can the public respond when we can’t even see the real documents?”
Still, New York City education official Debra Schwartzman went ahead with the hearing on Friday evening.
As you might expect, the huge auditorium at Public School 149 where it was held was virtually empty.
Only Gotbaum and Julius Tajiddin, a member of the School Leadership Team at Frederick Douglass Academy 2, showed up.
“Schwartzman told us she wasn’t there to answer questions, only to take public comments,” Gotbaum said.
Gotbaum then pointed out to her that there was no stenographer present or even a tape recorder.
Schwartzman assured him, he said, she would recall what was said.
As Gotbaum and Tajiddian took turns registering their objections, a new email arrived on Gotbaum’s iPhone.
It was a notice that the SUNY board of trustees had scheduled a vote for Tuesday at 1 p.m. on the proposal.
So you have this mockery of the democratic process where parents are asked to comment on a document they have never seen, and even before they’ve done so, the bureaucracy schedules a vote.
Asked about her proposed changes, Moskowitz said in a statement:
“These changes will allow us to serve even larger numbers of special-needs students, particularly those with more severe needs. Also, by combining our schools at the middle school level, we will be able to provide our students with more robust programs in areas such as sports and arts.”
Supporters of Moskowitz’s schools point to the uniformly high scores on standardized tests that pupils in her six-year-old network have recorded.
Opponents claim the Success Network creams the best performing students from the public schools and foments neighborhood conflicts by always insisting on more space in public school buildings where its programs are located.
As for the big hike in fees, Success Network spokeswoman Jenny Sedlis said they were justified because the organization “provides a phenomenal level of services that goes far beyond the service level contemplated under its services agreements with its schools.”