A charter group angling for the city’s support finally got a meeting at City Hall. Not long after, it’s become Mayor Bill de Blasio’s staunch ally on some politically-sensitive education issues.
First, it publicly distanced itself from a high-profile charter school rally being organized by de Blasio’s opponents. Then on Friday, it emerged as perhaps the only supporters of the city’s controversial decision around dozens of charter school co-location plans.
The loosely-connected group still doesn’t have a name and its founding members are hesitant to label themselves. “I’m not even sure it is a group yet!” Harlem RBI Executive Director Rich Berlin said in an email recently.
Recently, it goes by “community-based public charter schools”. Its membership is a moving target, with schools signed onto some statements but missing from others. But its core leadership has stayed the same, consisting of, among others, Berlin, New Visions for Public Schools President Robert Hughes, Renaissance Charter School founder Stacey Gauthier, Teaching Firms of America founder Rafiq Kalam Id-Din, Future is Now Schools founder Steve Barr, and Jonathan Gyurko, an education consultant and former city education official.
Despite their uncertain status, they’ve made quick inroads since forming just a month ago. They were called to a meeting with Blasio’s top aides on Thursday morning, just hours before the city announced it was rolling back three Success Academy charter school co-location plans. A pressing item on the agenda was to offer a sneak peak at the reasoning behind the city’s decision and, possibly, get some political cover for what the city knew would be seen as a controversial move.
A day later, the group came through for de Blasio. In a lengthy statement, they said they “came away with the impression that the city’s process was thorough and decisions principled.”
“I think it’s always disappointing because people want space and need space,” Gauthier said of the decision in an interview on Friday. “But I think they went through a fair process. It’s still disappointing, most especially for Success that has kids who are still moving to another grade.”
It was rare public approval for the decision, which has so far been roundly criticized by most sides involved. City Council members and the schools they represent where many of the plans will continue said de Blasio didn’t go far enough. On the other side, Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz and her allies pledged to aggressively fight the decision, possibly with legal action.
(The city said it canceled one of the Success plans, which evicted currents students from a building for next year, because it would have resulted in the reduction of a program for students with disabilities.)
It’s the second time that de Blasio has been backed by the group of charters while the mayor has been vulnerable. Yesterday, they said they were ditching a rally in Albany that was organized Moskowitz and other charter schol advocates because it was on the same day as a big prekindergarten lobbying effort planned by de Blasio’s team.
“The message you’re sending is that you just want a war,” Barr said, referring to the charter school rally. “I love political strength and organizing, but tactically to lead with that, it sounds more personal to some folks.”
The new support has been eagerly embraced by de Blasio’s team. A City Hall spokesman was the first to share both statements with Chalkbeat and a consultant from the public relations firm handling press for de Blasio’s pre-K campaign, BerlinRosen, blasted out a copy of the group’s anti-rally statement this morning.
The City Hall meeting included Intergovernmental Affairs Director Emma Wolfe, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery, Jr., and the chiefs of staff for both de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
Charter leaders who attended the meeting said they didn’t get anything in return for offering their support for de Blasio on these sensitive issues. They said they were just happy to have a seat at the table.
“When we first actually got together, our goal was just to have a dialogue,” said Gauthier. “Getting a meeting with senior officials is not necessarily easy.”
Gauthier and other attendees said that they also discussed, in broad terms, ways that the city could leverage its authority as school building landlords that house charter schools. One idea was to require schools to fill empty seats vacated by students who leave the school, a practice known as backfilling. Many of the highest-performing charter schools don’t backfill beyond early grades, which some believe can keep test scores high.
Another idea discussed was that, instead of paying rent, charter schools could pay for programs that could be shared by all co-located schools in a building, such as renovation costs, enrichment events and professional development sessions.
“We all left feeling very positive about this meeting, that the administration was really sincere in its efforts to work with us,” Gauthier said.
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated the impact of the Success Academy expansion)