Patersonians living near the bystreets of Broadway are up in arms about a new charter school that is set to open next month on East 33rd Street. Over three sheets of signatures have been collected to halt the opening of Paterson Arts and Science Charter School in September.
These residents are not protesting the charter itself, but the inconveniences it will cause in their neighborhood. Robert and Hattie Kersey are spearheading a campaign to collect dozens of signatures to mobilize their neighbors into action.
“A lot of them didn’t know” about the school, said Ms Kersey, 59, an equipment technician. She wrote a one page letter, and promulgated it amongst her neighbors to mobilize them in preparation for a battle against the charter. She wrote in the sheet of paper, “If they allow a new school, conditions in the neighborhood will worsen.” She is referring to the deteriorating parking situation, the increasing rat infestation, and the safety of neighborhood children – all of which she says will exacerbate once the school opens.
She and her husband worry about the street congestion the new school will bring, making the lives of those who live in the working class neighborhood somewhat more difficult than usual. “I think the congestion by itself is a major problem,” said Taya Snell, a neighbor of the Kerseys, who lives on Linden Road, in front of which the new charter is set to be situated.
At the school there are only 15 parking spots. About 360 students, who are set to start school at the location next month, according to the New Jersey Department of Education, will require more than a handful of teachers, not counting other staff members: nurses, secretaries, and administrators, all of whom will likely require vehicle parking space. Ms Kersey asks where will all of these staff members park when school begins: “The space only holds 15, you got the teachers, you got the nurses, you got the security, where are all these people going to park?”
The neighbors are presuming the school staff will park on their narrow streets, filled with driveways, and possibly block them from entering or exiting their garage. Timothy White, spokesperson for the North Jersey Arts & Science Charter Schools, says, “Teachers and administrators will be parking in legally designated locations on the street,” until the company figures out a way to provide parking for all its staff. “We are exploring options and looking into the possibility of entering into an agreement with nearby parking facilities that would give us the opportunity to provide more parking,” says Mr White.
“Our streets are very narrow; if you park on both sides on our streets, you will not be able to pass,” says Rigo Rodriguez, councilman-at-large, who habits a home on Pope Road, less than a block away from the soon-to-be charter school. He says once, a neighbor of his required emergency medical attention, and during the busy hours, an ambulance had a great deal of difficulty getting to him. “There was a time when an ambulance was going to come to pick up a gentleman — my next door neighbor — and they could not pass through.” The ambulance was not able to make it to the invalid’s residence, instead, he had to be carried to the medical vehicle. “You cannot afford to park cars on both sides of the street here,” said Mr Rodriguez. “I don’t know where they’re going to park their cars.”
Children’s safety and education
The Kerseys and their neighbors not only worry about what they see as a forthcoming parking disaster, but also about the school children’s safety. “There is a store across the street,” says Mr Kersey, who worries that children, after being dropped off to the school early in the morning by their parents, will run across the street to the stores, placing themselves in danger of being hit by oncoming traffic.
“Students will be dropped off during the morning drop off period and go directly from the busses into the school. Full-time professional security officers are on hand both at drop off and pick up periods to escort students to either the busses or to their parental vehicles,” says Mr White.
Ms Snell, a school teacher, who has children of her own, says, what if the youths, while playing outside run out into the busy Broadway traffic? Ms Kersey likewise asks a similar question, “Where are the kids going to play? They’re going to come outside, here, like they did before, and they’ll all be on our property.” The school, a former Jewish synagogue, does not have any playground on the outside, where kids can play during recess. “When you go send your kids to a school you want them to be able to socialize in the right environment,” said Tammie Simmons, an educator and resident of the Manor Section. “They’re being secluded.”
Ms Snell agrees, saying, “It’s the playground where you learn your social skills from.” Mr White says the children will be able to play indoors since there are no playgrounds attached to the school. “We certainly recognize that having an outdoor playground would be ideal, in regard to this particular location, we are satisfied with our ability to provide an indoor recreational area,” says Mr White.
Ms Simmons disagrees strongly with Mr White’s sentiment, uttering, children should not “play and eat at the same place.” The building is smaller than the average school in Paterson, and with more than 300 students, all from kindergarten to fifth grade, school officials have little choice but to make play and eating area in the same place.
Trash and rats
Outside of the building sits two large dumpsters inside of which refuse from the lunch room are to be discarded. Neighbors say, despite the school yet opening, there have been large numbers of rats running around the neighborhood, and they blame the building and its owner for the rat infestation. Mr Kersey says the owner, Michael Stengart, of Woodcliff Lake, has been holding night parties at the building and dumping trash into the dumpsters that stay at the premises for days, providing rats with sustenance to grow and breed.
“The rats are running everywhere,” says Ms Kersey, who alerted neighbors in her letter about the rat problem. “There have been sighting of rats in neighbors’ homes and with a new school there will be more garbage in the neighborhood,” wrote Ms Kersey in her letter to the neighbors. “We never had this problem,” says Ms Snell, who blames poor maintenance at the facility for the infestation, “the upkeep that they have is disgusting.”
Not a place for school
With all of these problems that will be unleashed by the school many simply do not see the location as a place where a school can thrive. “They figured there was a school here before so they could do it again,” said Ms Kersey, while explaining the lower number of students who were enrolled at the school – a fraction of the 360 set to start this September. Mr Kersey explained that problems forced the small school, Build Academy, to re-locate elsewhere.
Narrow streets, where there is little room for buses to pause much less pickup and drop-off students, made the location a nightmare for the Paterson School District, forcing it to relocate. “It’s not that I am against the school, but this is just not the area for a school,” said Ms Snell. Her neighbor Ms Simmons concurs asserting, “We just know the area well and as educators we know what is a good environment and safe environment to be an effective school. And I don’t see how that school can be really effective in that corner.”
Strange owner Stengart
Mr Stengart, who is described by Roman Ryba, a construction worker, as “man who owes a lot of money to a lot of people,” says the former owes him more than $60,000 for construction work he did at the building on East 33rd Street. Mr Ryba said he placed liens on the soon-to-be charter school to collect some of the money Mr Stengart owes him; indeed, a call to the city’s tax office found there were multiple liens on the property, and Mr Stengart has not paid property taxes since 2010, according to the office.
Previously, Mr Stengart attempted to convert the vacant building into a museum, an adult day care center, and a catering service; however, locals including the Kerseys went in front of the city’s zoning board, and successfully put a stop to Mr Stengart’s plan. The neighbors and the Kerseys do not intend to give up anytime soon: they say they will present their petition in front of the board of adjustment on September 26th, 2013. Although school will open long before that date, Mr Kersey is certain, if the board hears them out, the opening of the charter could be “reversed.”
“We’re going to fight them till the end,” said Ms Kersey.