Borough Park Battle Over School Plan


Faced with a proposed high school they believe will harm the character of their neighborhood, Borough Park leaders called on the city this week to instead send more intermediate school students to the underutilized facility slated to host the new academy.

A plan by the Bloomberg administration to house the Kingsborough Early College School at the 16th Avenue site of the Montauk School (an intermediate school capable of accommodating double its current enrollment) has drawn sharp protest from the area’s dominant fervently Orthodox community.

"The neighborhood is up in arms," said Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum of the Rabbinical Alliance of America, an area synagogue leader. "Our experiences in the past with bringing in students from other neighborhoods has generally been very unsuccessful."

Rabbi Tannenbaum said students being dismissed from public schools often became involved in confrontations with area yeshiva children.The rabbi said it didn’t matter that students at the Kingsborough school would be top-performing students who would be working for college credit.

"We are very skeptical about what’s being proposed," he said, adding that the facility should remain an intermediate school rather than combine older and younger students under the same roof. "The community tremendously supports the present administration at Montauk."

Borough Park residents and leaders were to meet Thursday with Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, City Hall’s point man on education policy issues, to discuss the plan.

In a brief interview Tuesday, Walcott said the administration was "without question" committed to seeing the plan through, but said he would not comment further until hearing the community’s concerns.

"I’m just looking forward to the meeting," he said.

A spokeswoman for Walcott said she was unaware of complaints about any of the 35 other schools announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his latest initiative to create smaller schools that would increase the overall graduation rate.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind said he would like to see local yeshivas have an opportunity to purchase any underutilized buildings from the city before they are opened to those outside the neighborhood. Hikind said he had also heard of concerns about fights between yeshiva and public school students and other disturbances.

But he said the primary concern discussed by rabbis and others in the community was that students at the new academy, boys and girls, would enter the neighborhood in immodest dress. Hikind likened the objection to longstanding efforts against advertising on buses, shelters and billboards featuring scantily clad models.

"We have to respect the cultures of communities across the city," he said. "That’s what makes New York so special.

"If it was a legitimate issue to be sensitive about the bus shelters, why canít we understand the same thing when it comes to this particular issue?"

Hikind, as well as the district manager of Community Board 12, Wolf Sender, said local officials had not been sufficiently consulted about the proposal.

"The Department of Education didn’t run this by anyone," said Sender. "It’s as if the community board didn’t exist."

Neither Hikind and Councilman Simcha Felder said they had not heard much criticism from outside the community and were not concerned about a backlash.

The executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, Michael Meyers, on Wednesday denounced opposition to the school placement.

"No public policy issue has been raised here," said Meyers. "It’s absolutely crazy. They don’t get to buy a building in order to have kids not go there. They are using code words about keeping the community crime-free, which is very much like resistance to school integration in the South. Public officials should say very plainly that it won’t work."

Officials of the Jewish Community Relations Council on Monday said the issue was not on its radar.

"I am hopeful that we will be able to reach a resolution that will satisfy the needs of [public school] parents as well as the community," Felder said.

A meeting between the president of the United Federation of Teachers and the government affairs leader of Agudath Israel of America turned some heads last week, coming at a time when the union is opposing education tax-credit proposals by legislators and Gov. George Pataki. Agudah strongly backs tax credits.

The session between Randi Weingarten and David Zwiebel was initiated by Agudah, said Weingarten spokesman Stuart Marques. But some saw it as a way for the union to paint the pro-tax credit push as a religious movement by negotiating with the fervently Orthodox umbrella group.

"This is consistent with [the UFT’s] ongoing efforts to mischaracterize tax credits," said Michael Tobman of TEACH NYS, the pro-tax credits lobby, who insisted his movement is supported not only by Jews and Catholics but by public-school parents who stand to benefit from school expenses like tutoring or test preparation.

Zwiebel noted that he and Weingarten served on a task force created by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer to identify means of maximizing state aid to private schools. He would not discuss the off-the-record meeting, but Marques confirmed that among the topics was the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit against New York State.

With billions at stake for city schools, the suit is a top priority for teachers but not high on the agenda of Agudah. The union has been trying to create a linkage between the two issues.

A list of alternatives to Pataki’s $400 million tax credit plan released by Weingarten includes settling the lawsuit; expanding the earned income tax credit and lowering taxes for all families earning less than $75,000; or a tax credit of up to $600 for every four-member family in the state earning up to $80,000.

Marques said Weingarten and Zwiebel discussed "a wide range of things, including Israel. She’s a Zionist and very passionate about it, and they talked about the situation there."

In the latest battle of the Independence Party war, leaders voted Saturday to disband three county organizations rather than let them be controlled by activists Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani.

In September, state chair Frank MacKay and others ousted Fulani and five of her allies from the party’s executive committee, saying her views on Israel and Jews were drawing negative publicity and harming the party’s interests. Several elected officials refused to seek the Independence endorsement last year after Fulani stood by a prior statement that Jews were "mass murderers of people of color."

MacKay said disbanding the Queens, Brooklyn and Bronx Independence chapters destroyed the Fulani faction’s control over the party in New York City and its ability to endorse candidates.

"Their game is over," he said.

Fulani’s base in Manhattan could not be disbanded because of elaborate provisions in state election law.

In a statement, Fulani said her opponents were "intent upon turning the Independence Party into an all-white party where blacks and other minorities are not just unwelcome, they are maligned and abused." She vowed to fight the changes in court.

But MacKay noted that none of the county leaders deposed Saturday were black, and said he welcomed the participation of African Americans in rebuilding the party. He said he would try to prevent Fulani’s lawyer, Harry Kresky, from representing her in any litigation because Kresky also represents the party’s executive committee.