space wars

City Council's UFT charter school support raises ire, eyebrows

People on both sides of the charter school fight are not happy about a hefty City Council earmark that’s going to the teachers union’s charter school.

The funding, sponsored by City Councilman Erik Dilan and approved last month in the council’s annual capital budget allocations, gives the union $2 million to develop a plan for moving its charter school out of the two East New York buildings it shares and into space of its own.

The announcement comes as charter schools and their critics are locked in fierce debate over how the city funds and allocates space to charter schools. That dispute is central to a lawsuit, filed in May by the UFT and NAACP, that seeks to stop 16 charter schools from opening, moving, or expanding.

The lawsuit alleges that some charter schools receive disproportionate public resources, and some of its backers say the City Council earmark is another example.

Teacher activist Norm Scott called the funding “a double outrage, maybe a triple outrage.”

“The union makes the same deal the charters are making, taking $2 million of public money, while the public schools are starving? I don’t care if it were $1, it’s the symbol,” he said. “Let them raise funds like all the other charter schools.”

State Sen. Bill Perkins said he would have preferred to see money going to traditional public schools in need.

“I would give them, especially my colleague Bob Jackson, the benefit of the doubt that there’s no conflict in that regard, but it makes one want to look into it and find out where we’re going with this,” he said. Robert Jackson is the chair of the council’s education committee and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, as are Perkins and Dilan.

Charter school advocates are also unhappy that the union’s charter school is getting help while other charter schools are struggling to hold onto space in public school buildings.

“The fact that even the UFT needs millions of scarce taxpayers dollars to move its charter school into a private building underscores why charters continue to need access to public space,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center.

Of the 660 education projects funded by the City Council’s capital budget, only six payouts were over $1 million. They went to James Madison High School ($2 million), Susan Wagner High School ($1.95 million for a baseball field), PS 101 ($1.6 million), PS 65 ($1.5 million), High School for Service and Learning ($1.33 million for auditorium renovations) and Brooklyn Technical High School ($1.25 million for an auditorium).

Though the council’s budget document says the money is for “community charter school construction,” the $2 million for the UFT charter school was classified as economic development spending, not education spending.

The city’s own capital budget for schools allocates $210 million for charter school construction. So far, that money is slated to help construct space for five charter schools.

Councilwoman Letitia James said she didn’t think that the council’s allocation to a charter school was “odd at all.” Anything that eliminates the problem of co-location is worth the expense, said James, who is also a plaintiff in the UFT-NAACP lawsuit.

UFT spokesman Peter Kadushin said the money will be used for planning the potential space, which will include a community center and health clinic. Providing those wraparound services would be consistent with the union’s previous pushes for community schools.

Longtime UFT member Peter Goodman said that $2 million was just a “pittance” for the tens of millions that a full facility could cost, though it could pay for planning and perhaps some of an abandoned site in East New York.

“The only way you can get that is probably through the federal government, some federal program where they’re really providing money,” he said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.