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An Upstairs-Downstairs Divide at a Public School Building in East Harlem

Ohanian Comment: I say kudos to Michael Powell, who shared 2009 Pulitzer Prize for the New York Times' coverage of Client #9, aka Elliot Spitzer. You can read his bio here.

May he cover more education stories.

Reader Comment: Eva Moskowitz is a self promoter that uses "it's all about the kids" as her mantra when extracting a huge salary for herself and her upper level staff.(her husband, Eric Grannis, takes home a salary equal to hers). All one has to do is look at the E-mails she exchanged with Joel Klein, obtained by the UFT obtained through FOIL, to see that her main concerns centered around her salary having limitations placed on it and the prospect that legislation would be proposed calling for greater transparency in the operation of her network of charter schools. While public schools are being under-funded by Bloomberg and Cuomo, her multi-million advertising campaign, financed by hedge funds, continues unabated under the guise of "choice." Contrary to the propaganda, charter schools do not produce better results with the same cohort of children and, in fact, often do a poorer job. Her high churn rate is indicative of what the "reformers" yearn for- an at will teaching staff that will never be around long enough to collect high salaries or benefits.

Reader Comment; And so the defunding and privatization of what was once held in common continues, and children are regarded as a resource from which "type A personalities" with $300,000 + incomes can make a killing. This isn't about education, or what is in the best interest of students -- their families, teachers, or society -- like nearly everything else these days, it's about what's good for the business people and how much money they can get out of it.

Reader Comment; This is truly shameful, an all-too-familiar exhibition of naked power and greed on the part of for-profit education deformers sucking resources away from neighborhood schools, then gloating. Eva Moskowitz is typical of what has emerged from letting billionaires and profiteers take over and dismantle public education. Good guys? If Ms. Moskowitz thinks she's one of them, she's utterly delusional.

By Michael Powell

Karen Melendez-Hutt once presided over a fine success story. Early last decade, she became principal of Public School 30 in East Harlem, a school on the critical care list.

Scores had spiraled downward. Families felt trapped. The end appeared in sight.

She won grants to pull in counselors, and tutored children at lunchtime, during recess, on Saturdays. Test scores rose. The school earned A's on progress reports. Then her staff proposed to renovate the playground, a vast expanse of asphalt fissured.

The Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer, gave $180,000 in 2010 for the renovation.

"I called the Department of Education and said: 'Isn't this great? We got this money!'" she recalled.

An official cut her off: "There's a lot more money than that coming," he said. "But Eva Moskowitz has got it."

In retrospect, this was the moment the center of power -- and money --began to shift decisively in this public school building.

Eva S. Moskowitz, a former city councilwoman, is chief executive of Success Academy Charter Schools. One of her handsomely financed schools, Harlem Success Academy 2 Charter School, occupied the upper floor of the same building as P.S. 30. Another school, devoted to students with disabilities, also inhabits this building on East 128th Street.

Ms. Moskowitz, as Type A and politically connected as any charter operator in the city, had convinced the City Council to allocate $875,000 to renovate the same playground. Although the Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, says this money was intended for the playground for all three schools, Harlem Success Academy 2 quickly took ownership.

"They made it clear they'd already hired an architect and they'd plan it," Ms. Melendez-Hutt recalls. "I said, 'No, no, no, for once you have to learn to play with others.'"

Ms. Moskowitz is a brigadier in the charter school wars that could define the next mayoral election. Armies mass on either side. The teachers' union, parent groups and the organization New York Communities for Change oppose charter expansion. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has sent a trusted aide, Micah C. Lasher, to work with the hedge-fund-backed group StudentsFirstNY to push expansion.

Ms. Moskowitz embraces life in wartime. She yearns not only to compete, but also to drive the teachers' union and some public schools into the East River. In e-mails several years ago to the chancellor at the time, Joel I. Klein, obtained by the columnist Juan Gonzalez of The Daily News, Ms. Moskowitz made clear her views. "We need," she wrote, "to quickly and decisively distinguish the good guys from the bad."

To this end, she has formed a network of charters that, with strict discipline and unrelenting emphasis on high test scores, have posted impressive results.

On Monday, the trustees of the State University of New York -- which oversees charter schools -- gave Ms. Moskowitz permission to open six new schools. And the trustees increased her network management fee to 15 percent, from 10 percent, which will infuse her quickly expanding empire with millions of dollars.

Her pell-mell success exacts a toll. Teachers' hours are brutal, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., with evenings devoted to marking homework. Teacher turnover at Harlem Success Academy 2 approached 40 percent last year. Ms. Moskowitz drives herself no less manically. She lists her salary as $379,478 and pegs her typical workweek at 70 hours.

Say this for Ms. Moskowitz: Many students in poor neighborhoods have for years lacked quality schools; charters perhaps offer useful competition.

She glories in comparing her schools with hapless public school cousins. "The nice thing about co-location is that you can put the schools under a microscope," she says.

Ms. Melendez-Hutt retired two years ago, and P.S. 30 has gone into a slide. It received a D grade last year, a fact that Ms. Moskowitz's staff noted in e-mails and phone calls. The staff also sent a comparison of test scores, and it contrasted Success Academy's wood cubbies and carpeted classrooms with the dingier halls of the neighbor.

In essence, I had an immersion in the same hard sell parents are given. Only nuance was missing. P.S. 30 students are distinctly poorer, and a far higher proportion receive special education. Its veteran staff members themselves outfitted a fine library with sofas and chairs.

Then there's that playground. A handsome soccer field with artificial turf dominates the yard, as Ms. Moskowitz desired. P.S. 30 obtained one of its four desired basketball courts, which occupies a corner near the door.

"It was a very long, drawn-out process," Ms. Moskowitz said. "It's all about the art of compromise."

No doubt.

— Michael Powell
New York Times





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