Decisions involving the allocation of public-school resources are seldom easy, even in the best of times. Resources are always finite, as parents know all too well. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein recently used emergency powers to overrule a state decision that would have stopped the expansion of a successful all-girls charter school on the Lower East Side. It was the right choice, but it was not without a price. The charter school’s expansion in P.S. 188 means that a program for autistic children will have to find space somewhere else.
Parents of the autistic children are understandably concerned about the coming academic year. Their children will be sent to programs in other schools, but nobody seems to know precisely where. That’s unfortunate-parents of children with special needs deserve all the support they can get, and that includes timely information about their children’s education.
But the good news is that students in the Girls Preparatory Charter School will be able to continue in the program through middle school, using space previously used by the autistic students. In a perfect world, the city would have the resources and ability to house everybody in the same location. But in the real world of difficult decisions, Chancellor Klein had to decide which was the greater good: Expanding opportunities for girls on the Lower East Side, or preserving the status quo at P.S. 188.
Albany, after months of delay, ruled that Chancellor Klein was barred from moving the autistic program without public hearings. But the State Education Department also noted that Mr. Klein had emergency powers that allow him to change the usage of a public-school building without consulting the public. Mr. Klein chose to invoke those powers to allow the charter school expansion.
The autistic children and their parents should have been treated with greater sympathy, but it should also be noted that the biggest critics of Mr. Klein’s actions in this case also happen to be among the biggest critics of the charter school revolution. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, for example, said the chancellor displayed “arrogance that too many parents have come to expect” from Mr. Klein. Actually, parents have come to expect accountability from Mr. Klein-accountability that was sorely lacking back in the days of the late, unlamented Board of Education.
Mr. Klein had a tough call to make in this unfortunate dispute over limited resources. We think he made the right one.