Brooklyn Music School parents wage war on the board of directors • Brooklyn Paper

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The board of directors of a century-old music school is at war with its parent organization, threatening the school’s ability to fulfill its core mission, parents say.

Brooklyn Music School, which occupies a stately but cramped building on St. Felix Street in Fort Greene since 1909, has been in conflict for more than a year with parents accusing the board of trustees of conflicts of interest, and hauling water for an elite private school that rents space in the building.

The private school, Muse Academy, was founded by members of the music school board with a loan of $ 185,000 as a revenue generator for the music school, which serves students from all walks of life and charges affordable rates for private lessons. However, the tenant has come to compete for space and resources with his landlord, and is helped by sympathetic Muse board members, who sit on both the Muse Academy boards and from Brooklyn Music School, according to parents. Parents say the board is prioritizing the growth of the Muse academy over the needs of the music school.

“They are not defending the BMS,” said Doug Morro, a parent involved with the school for six years. “If you sit on the board of two conflicting entities, how can you defend both? In fact, this is simply not possible.

At the heart of the dispute is a multi-million dollar real estate transaction, in which Brooklyn Music School sold its air rights to real estate developer Gotham Organization. Gotham plans to erect a 24-story tower on land adjacent to the ruined music school building, with a spacious new school house on the ground floor.

The air rights deal with Gotham has taken the conflict to new heights, primarily over the use of space in the building. Parents and teachers at Brooklyn Music School say Muse has occupied space in the cramped school building since its inception in fall 2018. The private school claimed it only shared rooms with the music school, and this, since it only works until 3:30 p.m., while the music school only works after school, there is no competition for the space.

But parents and teachers have pointed out that the kindergarten-sized furniture used by the academy makes room-sharing nearly impossible due to the amount of space needed for music lessons. It is simply not possible to disassemble and put down the music equipment in a room furnished as a classroom, they say.

“There is often a mix of spaces that were once used for the BMS and that are no longer as accessible or accessible at all,” Morro said. “There are spaces that are arranged for types of instrumental music that need to be arranged or broken down. ”

Who is the new building really for?

The new space in the Gotham development is intended to provide more respite for the music school, with space for a new auditorium and classrooms. School officials have testified at community council meetings and public hearings in support of the project, which requires a zoning change to move forward.

However, statements from bigwigs from the Muse Academy have raised suspicion among some parents that the deal could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, touted as only beneficial to Brooklyn Music School, when it might in fact. be more beneficial to the Muse Academy. And although the board has passed resolutions designating the new building as only for Brooklyn Music School, parents don’t trust them.

“I don’t think that with the current board it’s going to be primarily or solely for the Brooklyn School of Music,” said Richard Crawford, whose son is taking music lessons at the school. “It seems like an incredible opportunity for Muse to secure even more space, even more fancy space.”

A rendering of the proposed new building.FXcollaborative

At a virtual open house earlier this year, Muse Academy school principal Deborah Bradley-Kramer certainly made it sound that way. While talking about the $ 27,500-a-year private school to expectant parents, Bradley-Kramer spoke about Brooklyn Music School’s expansion plans.

“As most of you may not have seen our school, you may not be aware that there is currently a vacant lot next to it, and we have acquired this land and we are going to expand into it. to create a state-of-the-art facility that is a little taller to this day… of our 110-year-old brownstone, ”says Bradley-Kramer in a recording of the meeting obtained by Brooklyn Paper. “We’re going to add recording studios, fully equipped classrooms, things like that. It will be primarily a Brooklyn Music School venue, but we will occupy two floors in the new facility. “

Its board of trustees, two of whom sit on both the Brooklyn Music School and the Muse Academy boards of trustees, help expand private schools.

Parents say this caused Muse Academy to operate at the expense of Brooklyn Music School. In addition to space-sharing disputes over Muse’s miniature furniture, school insiders say lease negotiations between the two entities are one-sided, with Muse being granted a preferential lease by the school after a process of negotiation.

Muse also took a toll on the music school’s resources, with Brooklyn Music School taking a loan of $ 185,000 to fund the posh academy at its inception, and being forced to keep its building open overtime for service purposes. Muse, according to sources within the school.

The board, whose primary purpose is to raise funds for the school, often serves Muse’s interest by default, as it generates income for the school through rent, charged by parents.

The Muse Academy was started by Crocker Coulson, a board member, CEO of an investor relations firm who alarmed the school community after a New York Post article revealed he was being sued by his ex-wife – a tobacco heiress – for using spyware. to listen to it. Coulson would end up paying half a million dollars in this verdict. Coulson, in addition to board chairman Shelby Green, is considered the most influential member of the board and served as chairman until his spyware scandal.

Pressure from the music school for a seat at the table

Following continued outrage from parents, the board has tried to work things out in recent months.

In May 2021, the board passed a series of resolutions regarding the music school’s relationship with the muse. The four resolutions state, in short:

  1. That the Brooklyn Music School will be the sole occupant of the new school space and will not lease space from the MUSE academy.
  2. This Brooklyn Music School will resign as a managing member of Muse and terminate the legal affiliations of both organizations.
  3. That Muse will continue to lease space from Brooklyn Music School at a fair price that will be evaluated by an outside expert.
  4. That the regulations of the music school be amended so that any member of the board of directors serving on both the music school and the Muse boards must recuse themselves from any decision regarding the rental conditions or the use of space agreements.

Green, the board chairman, told Brooklyn Paper that these resolutions should iron out any disputes over the new building, and pointed to an internal investigation that showed broad support for the new development within the school. Green also claimed that the discord within the school is the work of a small group of parents who disagree with some of the board’s decisions.

Parents always ask more of the board, which has no entity that holds it accountable for its resolutions.

“On the surface their resolutions seem to solve the problems, but our demands run deeper because those resolutions can be overruled once everything is passed and they get whatever they want,” said one parent, who asked. that their names not be disclosed in anticipation of attacks. from the members of the board of directors.

Parents are pushing for their parent association to be recognized by the board as an official entity within the school, in order to allow parents to have more influence in the day-to-day running of the school.

“We are asking that the Parents Association be recognized as an official entity within Brooklyn Music School so that parents have a real voice within the organization,” said the parent.

They are also pushing for any zoning change that takes place at the site to include a stipulation that the space is to be used only for Brooklyn Music School, not a private school. Parents launched a petition which has collected more than 200 signatures was aimed at local council member Laurie Cumbo, who has allocated the music school $ 6 million in funding to help with its expansion and has a disproportionate influence on the rezoning, which is in her district. Cumbo’s office did not respond to a message seeking comment on the matter.

Board representatives argued that the resolutions passed were proof of their commitment to the school and that the appointment of two parents from Brooklyn Music School to the board of directors was a testament to their willingness to work with parents. .

As the council seeks to quell debate over the future of unbuilt development, parents say the feud over space in the existing building is only getting worse as the Muse academy expands to the first year next year. The school reserved three additional rooms in the building, one of which was the last large classroom that Brooklyn Music School had unlimited access to, its Piano Lab. The only rooms they now have uninterrupted access to are the individual studios.

Green disputed that Brooklyn Music School cannot access these classrooms and pointed out that kindergarten-sized furniture has been in use for 25 years.

The school’s piano program is its most comprehensive program, according to a former teacher, where students learn the basics of music. As they were increasingly cut off from the main piano labs, students were forced to learn on toy pianos that often broke down, or to dub with other students on the piano.

The school’s continued expansion at the expense of Brooklyn Music School is emblematic of the board’s attitude, according to a parent.

“It’s absolutely Muse first, Brooklyn Music School second,” they said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly indicated the number of members shared by the Brooklyn Music School and Muse Academy Boards, they share 2 members, not 6. The story has also been updated to reflect that Muse Academy plans to expand into two classrooms next year, not 3.

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