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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What Joel Klein says about overcrowding and the capital plan

There’s an excellent article in NY Magazine this week, about the crisis of overcrowding and class size, as rising population pressures and development threatens to overwhelm our schools. An excerpt:

And when parents reared up to ask Joel Klein about the issue [of overcrowding] at a recent community-education-council meeting, they say his answer was succinct: “Send your kids to private school.” (Klein’s office flatly denies the remark, calling it “completely inconsistent with his values and obvious commitment to public education.”)

This was not just an isolated slip from Chancellor; I know at least one prominent elected official who was asked by Klein why she sends her child to a NYC public school.

The article focuses on PS 199 in D3, PS 116 in D2, and PS 321 in Brooklyn, but clearly, this is a problem happening all over the city.

Last night, at the Panel for Educational Policy monthly meeting, parents from PS 8 in Brooklyn Height complained that enrollment has tripled and their 2nd and 3rd grades now have class sizes of 30, with worse to come, because of the number of new buildings rising in their neighborhood.

Teachers at PS 373 in Staten Island, a special ed school for autistic children, spoke about how the overcrowding at their school has become so bad that all the classrooms had been divided in half, and still, there was no space for a “quiet room”, which is essential for calming autistic children when they lose control. A parent from D 24 in Queens spoke about the rampant overcrowding in her district; in one school, Kindergarten students have to be bussed to another district, and yet the school is officially rated as undercapacity.

I spoke as well last night and first reproved the Chancellor for having let the legal deadline for class size reporting lapse. I informed him that the DOE was now in violation of law by refusing to disclose this information. I then spoke about their new class size reduction proposal, just recently approved by the state, which calls for lowering average class size to no more than 20 in K-3 and no more than 23 in all other grades over the next five years.

This proposal represents a significant improvement – especially if achieved in all schools and communities citywide. But there is no room in our schools right now to accomplish these goals, and the current capital plan would need at least twice as many seats – about 120,000 – to make this possible.

According to my calculations, based on the cost estimates in the current capital plan, it would take about $138 million in annual payments to finance this number of seats, after 50% reimbursement from the state for new school construction. This amounts to less than 3% of last year’s surplus, and less than one seventh what the Mayor gave back in tax cuts last year. Yet if current trends continue, NYC will spend a smaller percentage of its capital budget on schools than at any time in more than ten years.

I asked Klein last night if he planned to expand the current capital plan to allow their state-mandated class size reduction plan to become a reality, or if his proposal was only a convenient fiction concocted to satisfy the state. Do you know what he said? He responded that he would love to have a better capital plan, but he had no control over the budget.

Talk about an excuse-based culture! Well, I don’t think this is good enough answer. It’s his job, and that of the Mayor, to provide the space so that smaller classes can become a reality.

The amended capital plan is coming up for comment before CECs in December. See my fact sheet and let your CEC know that they should demand a better capital plan – one that provides at least double the seats, and the space to fulfill the new state mandate for smaller classes in all grades.

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