Proposed charter middle school raises tension

Neighbors, electeds cite poor transportation, safety as issues at construction site


Led by state and city elected officials Saturday, nearly 100 residents of nearby Tibbett Towers, the Edwardian and Corlear Gardens voiced their opposition to the charter middle school being constructed at 306 W. 232nd St.

The rally was organized to allow community, neighbor and teacher union voices be heard to express their opposition to the proposed International Leadership Charter Middle School project.

“You can also see water coming up from underground because you know what’s underneath us,” Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said Saturday, receiving a response from the crowd, “Tibbetts Brook.”

In Corlear Gardens adjacent to the site, shareholder Franes Zaruski said a man had to put sandbags in the basement to soak up the water. “It’s an ongoing problem,” she said.

The Tibbett Towers parking lot, which is adjacent to the proposed school, has a potential sinkhole, leaving 11 car owners to find street parking. The damage to the parking lot remains unsafe for parking and resident to stand there.

“It’s getting worse because they haven’t repaired it — they said it’s not their fault,” said Tibbett Towers resident Dawn Feintuch.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz begs to differ. “It is their fault — who’s fault is it?” he said.

City Councilman Eric Dinowitz said he and residents were unhappy about not being alerted to the construction of the school until large earth-moving equipment showed up.

“We found out about the construction when shovels were already in the ground,” he said.

Both Dinowitzes are quite familiar with the neighborhood as they lived in Tibbett Towers many years. “I lived there half my life,” the councilman said.

The International Leadership Charter School is puzzled about the vitriol and opposition to the placement of the middle school at W. 232nd Street.

“It is unfortunate that the expansion of a middle school in Kingsbridge, though fully supported by community parents and families, is sparking such vehement attacks from a small group of detractors,” the chief executive, Elaine Ruiz-López said in a statement.

Ruiz-López opened International Leadership Charter High School on Riverdale Avenue and West 231st Street — not far from the Kennedy Campus — in 2006. It provides college preparatory education. Some of its high school students go on to attend Ivy League schools.

While ILCHS is shooting for the fall of 2024 to complete the middle school, the construction site has faced some minor setbacks such as a temporary stop order issued in March due to flooding at the site.

The city buildings department has cited Pancas International, the Kingsbridge-based contractor in 18 complaints, which date back to January. In addition, there were 14 issued violations from last January with over $15,000 in additional penalties.

One reason for a violation was the use of a public fire hydrant for construction operation, according to an inspector’s report. Another violation was an observation of a damaged or cracked sidewalk, which created a tripping hazard for pedestrians.

“It is baffling to our school community that some of our local political leaders who have supported our charter school in private for the past 17 years have since publicly denounced the expansion for reasons unknown,” Ruiz Lopez said.

The Assemblyman, who helped organize the rally at the construction site, has been on the record for being in favor of a new charter middle school but just not in that area due to traffic concerns. He made those comments during Community Board 8 meetings and in several discussions with The Riverdale Press.

“You’re going to have kids in this ridiculous building, fully residential location and adding to the burden of the neighborhood, I have nothing against the high school that exists on 231st Street from what I know, they do a decent job,” the Assemblyman said in a housing committee meeting.

In March, the Assemblyman, councilman and state Sen. Robert Jackson wrote a letter to the city’s transportation department, education and the director of SUNY Charter School Institute — the organization that approved the middle school to be built.

The politicians requested a neighborhood traffic study to address traffic patterns during morning arrival and afternoon dismissal since there are 15 other schools nearby.

Another letter was sent out to schools chancellor David Banks to ensure public money was being spent responsibly.

Parents United for the International Leadership Charter School had already addressed several of the concerns stated in the letters sent to the agencies.

The school ensured most students would walk rather than rely on busing and their parents as they live in the community.

However, if parents pick up their children, the school would schedule pick-up and drop-off times that don’t conflict with other schools.

In addition, to minimize these concerns, the school would suggest teachers and staff park offsite.

The school has also responded to the Stop the Charter School campaign, a group of community volunteers committed to stopping the construction of the school.

The group’s concerns mimic the elected officials. But they also worry about their property values.

“It is regressive and shameful at worst to believe that anyone in this community would claim that constructing a middle school for the future scholars from the community devalues property,” Parents United said.

“It’s about money because every student that attends a school, the Department of Education had to pay the charter money,” Sen. Jackson said.

The senator added that Eva Moskowits, chief executive and founder of Success Academy Charter Schools of New York City, earned about $750,000. He claimed the schools are trying to privatize public education.

International Leadership Charter Middle School, high school, Tibbett Towers, Tibbetts Brook, Corlear Gardens, the Edwardian, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Elaine Ruiz Lopez, Community Board 8, Robert Jackson, Parents United for the International Leadership Charter High School