Walcott: Not all charter and district schools are made equal

Speaking at a townhall-style event last night, Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott said the city needs to cut down on inequities between charter schools and traditional public schools.

Responding to criticism that New York City charter schools have significantly more money, school supplies, and better facilities than the district schools they often share buildings with do, Walcott conceded that this is a problem on some campuses.

“That’s something we need to work on,” he said.

“Charter schools have the ability to raise money and so can get enhancements, and that’s a beautiful thing,” he continued. “At the same time, we have the responsibility to make sure that the existing schools that share the space also get the enhancements.”

Arguing that disparity can be best solved on a school-by-school basis, Walcott said that district school principals could spend part of their budgets to pay for new supplies and facility upgrades.

“Up until last year, we were doing a very good job with that,” he said, adding that budget cuts hurt principals’ ability to spend money on non-staff expenses.

Turnout at the event, held at the Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts, was lower than organizers had expected, in part because it was held at the same time as a Community Education Council meeting on overcrowding in the same district. Organizers said that the scheduling conflict was unintentional.

Perhaps because of the small turnout, the meeting turned into an unusually candid conversation between the deputy mayor and his audience.

Walcott also said that there is more work to be done to improve services for special education students and increasing the number of African American and Hispanic teachers.

Susan Crawford, a parent in District 3, criticized the increased security presence in schools. “Things are being handled by arrest that used to be handled by the principals,” she said.

“I don’t agree with you that we’re just arresting kids willy nilly and putting them in jackets for life,” Walcott responded, saying that security policies have made schools safer and that no disciplinary power has been taken away from principals.

Walcott spent much time emphasizing that the Bloomberg administration is trying to increase the ways that parents can influence and be involved in their children’s schools. He highlighted the Learning Environment Surveys, which poll parents on the performance of schools, and the education component of the 311 call line.

“What we’ve tried to do is to create a variety of mechanism for parents’ voices,” he said. “That’s not to say we can’t make it better. That’s one of the reasons I’m here.”

Mona Davids, the founder and director of the New York Charter Parents Association, said that she organized the event with the Community Conversations in Education Project of the New York City Mission Society as a way to begin forging an alliance between charter and district school parents. “We’re all public school parents,” she said. “I think it’s really important to come together to ensure that all our children receive equal access to a quality education.”

A similar meeting is scheduled for next month in the Bronx.