schools

Fire, Rain and Union Tensions Test a Bronx Charter School

The Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls is housed inside P.S. 359 in the south Bronx. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Parents and teachers at a Bronx charter school upended by fire, rain and a union-organizing standoff say management’s math doesn’t add up.

Independent audits show the bank account of the 431-student Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls doubling to more than $10 million between 2015 and 2018, as the nonprofit’s board of directors left piles of public cash unspent.

In the last few years, the school has taken in around $7 million in funds annually, mostly from the state, according to the audits. It spends roughly $5 million a year, leaving millions to accumulate in reserve.

Meanwhile, staff and parents say conditions grew increasingly dire during the recently ended school year. The K-8 Institute’s classrooms are housed within the Public School 359 building in Concourse Village.

“Every day that it rains, the children are trained to get up because the ceiling leaks,” said Nedra Bowers, mother to a fourth-grader at the school.

The Mott Haven resident said her daughter told her: “When it rains, it’s like it’s raining in the classroom.”

Teachers contend that entire classrooms of students were forced into the auditorium.

‘We Want Accountability’

Over the February school break, a fire engulfed the room where Spanish-language materials were stored for the dual-language school, leaving the students without key supplies, faculty members told THE CITY.

“We want accountability,” said Diane Biondo, a literacy coach at the school. “Where is this money? Where is it?”

Nedra Bowers stands outside of the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls.
Nedra Bowers says her daughter is exposed to unsanitary conditions at the school. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Paul O’Neill, an attorney for the school, responded to inquiries by THE CITY sent to Alana Barran, the board of directors chairperson.

The school’s leadership takes “any and all concerns about its program very seriously,” O’Neill said in an emailed statement. “BGLIG is therefore investigating recent allegations about the condition of the building and support for the educational program.”

Until then, he added, the school won’t comment on claims made by staff and parents.

In the just-ended school year, the Institute spent around $85,000 on classroom and teacher supplies, said O’Neill.

The school also has been in “close communication” with city education officials, he said, and “brings any concerns about the building to the attention of the district.”

Miranda Barbot, a Department of Education spokesperson, said officials ”have not recently received requests for maintenance at this building.”

“We’ll make a site visit to assess the need for any repairs,” she added.

Raiding Dumpsters for Supplies

Faculty at the independent South Bronx charter school in November voted to join the United Federation of Teachers and began to pursue a collective bargaining agreement — only to be slow-walked to a standstill by school management, they complain.

Parents and teachers have complained about unsanitary conditions at the school.
Parents and teachers have complained about unsanitary conditions at the school. Photo: Courtesy of the United Federation of Teachers

Early this year, the UFT submitted a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board that Global Leadership Institute for Girls was effectively refusing to bargain with the teachers.

While the UFT withdrew its request once it secured meetings with management in March, “we reserve the right to resubmit the charge if they continue to delay,” said Miles Trager, the UFT’s chief negotiator for charter and private schools, in a statement.

Salaries that trail those of city public school educators are not the only issue of concern to the faculty. Complaints abound of pests in classrooms and supply shortages.

According to staff members, each classroom at the school, whose website boasts of a “technology-rich environment,” only has five laptops. Smartboards are often faulty, too, some said. And when staff ask for more supplies, they say they are told the school doesn’t have the funds.

A Call for Change

Some faculty members said they have resorted to paying for materials and personal development expenses with their own money. Others said they’ve raided other schools’ Dumpsters for supplies.

“You ask for those things and those things never come, because they are not in the budget,” said teaching assistant Jaedea Gonzalez. “How do batteries not fit in the budget, if we have $10 million?” she asked.

Some parents are calling for changes to the board.

“They are really departing from the mission, the vision, and the drive of the school,” said Bowers. “This is not their school, or their money. This is a school for our girls.”

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