DOE Chancellor Walcott On Closing Schools

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott talks about the New York Supreme Court ruling allowing the city to proceed with closing 22 schools and co-locating 15 charter schools.

The ruling came yesterday: New York City can proceed with plans to close twenty-two failing schools in September and place fifteen charter schools in regular school buildings, despite lawsuits from the teachers union and the NAACP. The suits allege that the move discriminates against regular district schools.

Chancelor Walcott says the ruling is a victory for students.

We’ve had a number of our students—thousands of our students—on hold, waiting for a decision by the judge as a result of this lawsuit.

The NAACP joined the Teacher’s Union in the lawsuit, arguing that charter schools located in district buildings get an unequal advantage in access to the building’s facilities, such as gyms and library space. Walcott does not agree with that assessment.

We try to make sure that all of our schools, whether they are charter or non-charter are treated in an equitable manner and to me that’s the most important thing.

Co-locations – schools located within other schools – are present in almost 50% of school buildings in the city. The chancellor said some 750 schools are co-located. These have caused some consternation among parents who feel opposed to giving up classrooms and library hours to another school. Walcott said that perception is misguided and that most co-located schools share resources well.

I understand their concerns but people sometimes become very space-oriented, as far as what was mine before is now something I have to share. This is not about specific schools having their own space, it’s about a building serving our students, and that’s our bottom-line goal.

Critics charge that charter schools weed out special-needs students and English-language learners, in order to show high achievement scores. Walcott said new laws will ensure that charter schools treat all students the same for admissions.

If that was a concern before, that concern has been rectified, I guess around last year, when the new law was put in place.

The academy leadership charter in the Bronx was disciplined recently for unfair admissions process. Walcott warned that he would continue to look for schools, charter or otherwise, who violated policy.

The schools chancellor said he was unaware of anything the judge in the case said about whether the failing schools were failing due to a lack of funding for the city. He dismissed the idea that the city killed off the schools in order to close them and said the city was instead providing special support for the schools during the phase-out.

People will put out what they feel sells. I deal with reality. And with these schools that are being phased out, we continue to support them… We want the student even in the phase-out schools to do well.

Walcott denied that there was disparate finding between charter schools and non-charters. He said all schools receive fair funding, and some schools are able to raise private funds as well, but denied that it was an issue of charter schools receiving special treatment.

People are constantly trying to make this a charter versus non-charter debate. I’m not going to get sucked into that. It’s about quality options.

And what happens to summer school in buildings with no air conditioning on a 100+ degree day? While Walcott said there are some students in that situation, and they “are working on that”, the majority of students have been placed in buildings with cooling facilities, or at least air-conditioned rooms.