for sale

In Williamsburg, real estate troubles follow declining enrollment

Built for Williamsburg Charter High School, the eight-story building has a fitness center and a two-story rock climbing wall. It's for sale for $30 million.

The owner of a brand-new school building in Williamsburg is putting it on the market for $30 million after its tenant, the Williamsburg Charter High School, failed to pay rent.

According to a real estate listing for the property, which sits on Varet Street in East Williamsburg, the charter school needed to enroll over 1,000 students this year in order to cover its annual $2.3 million rent. But the school — one of three managed by the Believe High Schools Network — fell short, enrolling only 850. The listing states that enrollment suffered because of construction delays, which pushed the school’s move-in date back by a year and caused school to begin three weeks late this year.

“Understandably, the delay of the move and of the start of the school year led to some families choosing not to enroll their students after the lottery or to transfer,” wrote Believe High Schools Network spokeswoman Jacqueline Lipson in an email. “We also lowered enrollment for incoming students during that transitional time.”

Like traditional public schools, charter schools receive money based on how many students they enroll, so when Williamsburg Charter lost students, its budget shrank. According to the 2009-10 audits of the Believe network’s three high schools, the network also spent more money per-student than it received from the state.

Charter schools were given about $12,400 per-student from the state last year and Williamsburg Charter spent over $16,000 per-student. It spent more per-student at its two other charter high schools, which are located in a district school in Williamsburg. These two new schools, Believe Northside and Believe Southside, did not take in any private donations, but Williamsburg Charter received $37,000 in philanthropic contributions.

Lipson said Williamsburg Charter will remain in the building next year — the school has signed a 30-year lease.

The school “has an overwhelming amount of preliminary applications and is confident to enroll a sufficient number of students for a profitable next year,” the listing states.

Asked why he was selling the building, owner Paul Grossman said he needed the money. Grossman, who build the Varet Street building for the charter school, would not comment on Believe’s finances.

This is not the first time the Believe network has become entangled in real estate problems. Last summer, we reported that that the city and state education departments were investigating the network for holding classes at a facility that was only approved for factory and office use.

President of the New York Charter Parents Association Mona Davids said the school’s reputation was keeping enrollment down, not construction. Though two of Believe’s high schools opened too recently to have progress reports, Williamsburg Charter got a D on its report last year and a C the year before.

“I think word is starting to get around that it’s not a good school and it’s not a good network,” Davids said. “I guess parents are starting to vote with their feet.”

weekend update

How the education world is reacting to racist violence in Charlottesville — and to Trump’s muted response

PHOTO: Andrew Dallos/Flickr
A rally against hate in Tarrytown, New York, responds to the violence in Charlottesville.

For educators across the country, this weekend’s eruption of racism and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, offered yet another painful opportunity to communicate their values to families, colleagues, and community members.

Many decried the white supremacists who convened in the college town and clashed with protesters who had come to oppose their message. Some used social media to outline ideas about how to turn the distressing news into a teaching moment.

And others took issue with President Donald Trump’s statement criticizing violence “on many sides,” largely interpreted as an unwillingness to condemn white supremacists.

One leading education official, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, followed Trump’s approach, criticizing what happened but not placing blame on anyone in particular:

DeVos’s two most recent predecessors were unequivocal, both about what unfolded in Charlottesville and whom to blame:

Leaders of the nation’s two largest teachers unions responded directly to Trump:

The American Federation of Teachers, Weingarten’s union, is supporting vigils across the country Sunday night organized by chapters of Indivisible, a coalition that emerged to resist the Trump administration. The union also promoted resources from Share My Lesson, its lesson-plan site, that deal with civil rights and related issues.

“As educators, we will continue to fulfill our responsibility to make sure our students feel safe and protected and valued for who they are,” Weingarten said in a statement with other AFT officials.

Local education officials took stands as well, often emotionally. Here’s what the superintendent in Memphis, which is engaged in the same debate about whether Confederate memorials should continue to stand that drew white supremacists to Charlottesville, said on Twitter:

Teachers in Hopson’s district return for the second week of classes on Monday. They’ve helped students process difficult moments before, such as a spate of police killings of black men in 2016; here’s advice they shared then and advice that teachers across the country offered up.

We want to hear from educators who are tackling this tough moment in their classrooms. Share your experiences and ideas here or in the form below. 

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

Updated (July 31, 2017): A U.S. Education Department spokesperson responded to our request for comment, calling the New York Magazine story “nothing more than a hit piece.” Said Liz Hill: “The magazine clearly displayed its agenda by writing a story based on largely disputed claims and then leaving out of the article the many voices of those who are excited by the Secretary’s leadership and determination to improve education in America.”