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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Overcrowding Rally Rocks City Hall

Bravo to the parents of P. S. 234, 89, and 116 for organizing a tremendous rally at City Hall last week (6/26) to protest school overcrowding.

These three schools face truly crisis situations next fall, when booming enrollments will overflow their kindergartens. A recent "blueprint" from the DOE to address overcrowding in D2 offered only cosmetic solutions. P. S. 234 and 89 at least have the prospect of two new schools on the distant horizon (Beekman and the so-called Green School), but 234 parent Eric Greenleaf estimates that by the time these two schools open the downtown population will see enough new children to open a third. P. S. 116 has no relief in sight. Next year they will have kindergartens of 28 and may be busing kids ten blocks south to the American Sign Language school. Cluster rooms are disappearing, and kindergartens swelling into the high twenties.

Parents from these schools mobilized families from throughout the city to march on City Hall after school let out on Thursday to demand a capital plan that realistically addresses the city's needs for seats and real short-term solutions to current overcrowding. The day began at Teardrop Park in Battery Park City, where small dissidents made signs and celebrated the end of school on a very long slide. The rally moved to City Hall at 3:30, and at 4:00 protesters were addressed by a number of elected officials and parent leaders: Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer; Councilmember Alan Gerson; Chair of Community Board 1 Julie Menin; Matthew Borden, Community Liaison and education advisor for Assemblymember Deborah Glick; representatives for Representative Carolyn Maloney and Representative Jerrold Nadler; John Scott, Vice President of the Community Education Council for District 2; and Cynthia Wachtell and Paula Seefeldt of the Kids Protest Project, which has been delivering kids’ pleas to preserve school budgets to City Hall for weeks. P. S. 3 parent Robert Ely spoke of efforts to convert state property at 75 Morton Street to school space. State Senator Martin Connor said the crisis in overcrowding originates with mayoral control, and that Senate hearings on school governance will begin this summer. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver walked through the crowd and spoke with many parents and children to give them his support.

Organizers estimate that in the neighborhood of three hundred protesters showed up for the rally. City parents mourn that kids should face such conditions when they return to school this fall, but at least this latest DOE fiasco has brought to parent activism a new bunch of motivated and imaginative parents who in a short time have done much good. Now to the big job of pressing for an increased five-year capital plan for school construction this fall, in a city faced with shrinking budgets.

Update: See the Downtown Express about this rally, and about how DOE forced the PTA of PS 89 to take down a banner reading “STOP Overcrowding Our Schools” that was hanging from the school beforehand.

Funny, when they made all schools hang banners publicizing the highly controversial Broad prize when they won it. There seems to be a double standard here.


jd2718 said...

It's tremendous when people come together to organize around class size. It embarrasses me, though, as a Bronx teacher and Bronx resident that so little gets done for this borough's overflowing schools. Maybe it's just my perception as a high school teacher here, but it seems that high school buildings routinely get packed well beyond capacity, at levels that would cause outrage elsewhere.

Patrick J. Sullivan said...

Normally this type of large rally brings an attack from the NY Post editors. The parents and their electeds are typically labeled "tools of the UFT" or some other nonsense. But this rally, and the ones that wil l follow it in the fall make it clear that overcrowding and large class sizes are the primary concern of vast numbers of parents. And as Senator Martin Connor was right to point out, the resolution will be in Albany as more and more electeds have tied the mayor's failure to address overcrowding to a basic problem with mayoral control. The mayor has made it clear class size is not his priority. Fine, parents will take it up with Albany.

Ms. Tsouris said...

What also is amazing is that this story wasn't even a whisper in the outer boroughs. The overcrowding out here is unconscionable, but the parent involvement is problematic due to a much larger mix of different economic and ethnic groups with disparate priorities and values. It's really an urban area with the suburban "don't ask don't tell" attitude. There are pockets of activism, but a good activist is hard to find out here, to say the least.