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CHARTER SCHOOLS IN PUBLIC SCHOOL BUILDINGS: BEST PRACTICES FOR CO-LOCATION

INTRODUCTION

Throughout New York City, students from Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade are learning firsthand about “co-location,” the practice of two or more distinct schools existing in the same building and sharing spaces. While some co-locations involve multiple public schools, this paper will focus on co-locations with charter schools in public school buildings. All too often, co-location in New York City has led to the denial of parity and equity for all of the City’s public schools students. 

This paper discusses best practices that are absolutely essential to prevent co-location practices that are unfair and deny parity to all public schools students. These best practices will improve the process of co-location in New York City.

The growth of co-location has driven the rapid increase in new schools in the City. The New York City Department of Education (DOE) increased the number of new schools significantly during the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. In the six year period between 1996 and 2002 – the latter being the year Mayor Bloomberg first took office – the DOE opened 314 new schools, including 19 charter schools. 

However, during the Mayor’s first two terms from 2003 and 2009 – just one year more – the DOE opened 452 new schools, including 74 charter schools. In the 2009-2010 school year, two-thirds of the City’s 98 charter schools were colocated in public school buildings, according to the New York City Independent Budget Office. The city currently supports 123 charter schools.

A report written jointly by the New York City Public Advocate and the Alliance for Quality Education explains, “Since obtaining new space is often the biggest obstacle to starting a new school, the Department (of Education) has enabled new schools to overcome this obstacle by offering space in buildings where schools are being phased out or in existing neighborhood school buildings.”

When the parents are informed and involved, when the leadership of the various schools — especially the principals — communicate regularly and effectively, co-location can work. Colocation can be an opportunity for schools with declining enrollment time to address the cause of the decline while continuing to serve their existing students, and can provide academic options for parents looking for choices in schooling for their children.

However, many times co-locations do not work. This is especially true when the new school moving in to an existing school’s building does so in a manner that does not foster communication and mutual respect, or when the new school does not pay for its fair share of resources. In some instances, the co-locations have been blatantly unfair and denied parity to all students. Co-locations may occur despite opposition – sometimes quite fierce – from the current school and community. Sometimes, too, the new school can cause disruptions when, for example, it begins renovations before the existing school has had the opportunity to consolidate its classrooms and offices — and, in some cases, while the current school’s students are still finishing their academic year in the building. 

When questions are raised but not answered, when school leadership does not communicate well – or worse, refuses to communicate at all and just barrels in – problems ensue. Motivated to better understand co-location, its challenges, and its impact on existing schools, the New York Community Organizing Fund, Inc. (NYCOFI) initiated research into the issue. 

This paper is the result of that work and, based on the research, NYCOFI has set forth below best practices to maximize equity and fairness in the co-location process. 

Carlie Steen, Esq.
Executive Director

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