Tensions flare, then subside, after Success pressures city on charter school placement

A public truce between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz was nearly called off on Tuesday.

More than a month after de Blasio kicked off a political firestorm when he reversed a space-sharing plan for a Success Academy middle school, the city and the charter school network acknowledged that negotiations were underway to find new space. But a Success Academy spokeswoman said today at noon that officials and parents were “frustrated” enough with the pace of those talks that they had planned a press conference for Wednesday.

Just a few hours later, after Chalkbeat asked the administration to comment on the tension, the Success spokeswoman said that negotiations were back on track.

“We’re negotiating options for all three schools and are hoping that we’ll resolve this soon,” said Success spokeswoman Kerri Lyon, referring to the space-sharing plans for three charter schools that de Blasio nixed in February.

The brief conflict, which receded as quietly and quickly as it surfaced, underscores the sensitivity with which the de Blasio administration is now dealing with charter schools, following a powerful political and public relations campaign waged by charter school supporters over the last six weeks.

“I think he’s surrendered,” said David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College.

De Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell declined to comment on the tension, saying that the city is “actively working to reach solutions for these three schools.”

The mayor’s first major move to reduce the tension between City Hall and the charter sector came in a speech more than two weeks ago, just days after a poll showed support for de Blasio administration’s handling of the public school system had eroded. In his remarks, de Blasio noted that the city would work to find space for Success Academy Harlem Central, the middle school whose co-location he initially rolled back.

“It’s a good school doing good work, and we are going to make sure those 194 children have a good home this year,” de Blasio said.

Soon after, state lawmakers put extra pressure on city officials when they passed a law requiring charter school operators to approve any changes made to space-sharing plans that were first approved by the Bloomberg administration. Since de Blasio only rolled back plans for Success Academy charter schools, the law means that those changes now require Moskowitz’s sign-off.

Chancellor Fariña has said that the city rolled back the plan for Success Academy Harlem Central because it would have meant shrinking a program that serves students with severe disabilities. The city’s talks with Success, which began last week, have hinged on whether they should revive a version of the original plan or scrap it and seek a new location.

Earlier today, some of de Blasio’s allies—including City Council member Daniel Dromm and NAACP New York State Conference President Hazel Dukes—staged a protest in opposition to any plan that would shrink that program for students with disabilities.

“What about the students in Mickey Mantle?” asked Dromm, referring to the special education program that currently serves about 100 students in that building. “What’s going to happen to them?”

Dromm, who chairs the council’s education committee, could have gotten answers to those questions at a hearing he originally scheduled for Tuesday. But he abruptly cancelled the hearing last week, a move that some saw as reflecting pressure from the closely aligned de Blasio administration to keep charter schools out of the news cycle.

Dromm denied that he was encouraged to cancel the hearing, saying today that he just needed more time to understand how new state legislation would affect city charter schools.

“We felt we needed a little more time,” Dromm said, adding that he hoped that a new hearing would be held April 24, but that a new date hadn’t been confirmed.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the number of students who attended the special education school.