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School in Astoria faces 400% rent hike in 2015

An Astoria charter school that pays $700,000 in rent is facing a 400 percent rate increase when its lease expires in 2015, the school’s assistant principal said.

Our World Neighborhood Charter School, at 36−12 35th Ave. in Astoria as well as two other neighborhood sites, opened in 2002 and currently operates as a K−8 school.

The school has classes at three locales in the neighborhood, including grades K−6 at 35th Avenue and a middle school on 37th Street, as well as an indoor gym space at a local sports complex. The school’s landlord is the city Economic Development Corp.

Richard Wells, the school’s assistant principal, said the rent is scheduled to rise to market rate in 2015. He said the spike would be a 400 percent increase for the school, which is now attempting to raise money to expand its operations.

“[The city] would like to bring us up to market rate as if we were a factory or restaurant,” Wells said. “But as a charter school we already get less than [public] schools.”

Wells said the charter had a lower rent after upgrading the formerly derelict building that now houses the school for $3 million. He said the rent previously went up at the site when the school renewed its lease several years ago.

EDC spokeswoman Janel Paterson said she did not know what the market rate would be in seven years. But she said the proposed increase was not set in stone.

“We are trying to work with them on an acceptable rent,” she said.

Wells said Our World was the city’s second−largest charter school and that more than 80 percent of the school’s students had passed the 2008 state English Language Arts exam and the 2007 state math and social studies tests. He said the school has 700 students and employs 100 people.

Wells said the school would like to have a long−term lease with the city and expand its facilities so that all of its faculty and students could be located at the same site.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D−Astoria) said he does not understand how the EDC could justify hiking the rent by 400 percent while the city’s Department of Education has said it wants to boost school resources.

“The city should concentrate on being educators, not greedy landlords,” he said. “Schools cannot grow when we are heaping new expenses on them.”

Vallone said he has called for a halt to the rent increase.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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