Space in Brooklyn's PS 308 is about to get tighter.
On Tuesday night, the Panel for Education Policy gave a newly approved charter school the okay to move into a Bedford Stuyvesant building currently occupied by PS 308, adding it to the ranks of city schools that share building space. Nearly two-thirds of the city’s charter schools now occupy space in public school buildings.
Teachers, parents and students familiar with PS 308's building say they are baffled by the Department of Education's reports that estimate that nearly 50 percent of the building is underused.
"It's cramped," said Aquilla Raiford, a seventh grade English teacher who has classes of up to 29 students in what she describes as a half-sized room. "If they're going to take away classrooms from us that means we're going to have to cut down the number of classes in each grade, so it's going to be even more crowded and cramped."
Following a walk-through in October, the DOE released a report concluding that there was enough space in the building for at least 300 additional students. The 11-page document explained how the building could be sliced and diced to accommodate the two groups of students, teachers and staff.
"We understand why there would be concerns with a new school moving into that building, Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the DOE said, but we see all across the city that schools can collaborate and share space completely comfortably."
Because of limited real-estate, charter schools like Teaching Firms of America--the school that will join PS 308 in the fall--are often approved before there's a place to put them.
Rafiq Kalam Id-Din, principal of Teaching Firms, first received approval for his school in January 2010. But he wasn't sure he'd be able to go ahead with his hiring and enrollment plans until Tuesday night.
In the fifteen months between approval and assignment, the DOE held several meetings with PS 308 community members to introduce them to the possibility of co-location and hear their feedback.
"We expressed our deep concerns," said Mary Jackson, a 62-year-old community member and grandmother of a 5th grader at the school.
"The structure of the building, the size of the auditorium, the size of the gym," Jackson said, weren't big enough to share. When DOE representatives returned for a second follow-up meeting, this time with Kalam Id-Din, the principal of Teaching Firms Charter, Jackson said she was caught off guard.
"I thought you said it wasn't a done deal," she told the DOE representative. "Did you go back and express our concerns?"
The teachers union echoed space and safety concerns following an inspection they commissioned in February, as the vote for approval grew closer.
On Tuesday night, after the last round of comments -- some in favor but most against the decision -- the panel approved the co-location.