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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Rally to demand A Better Capital Plan

Thanks so much to all of you who were able to attend our rally on school overcrowding on Friday morning.

We filled the steps of City Hall, nearly 300 impassioned parents, advocates, children and elected officials.

Among those who spoke included Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Cathy Nolan of Queens, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, Assembly member Deborah Glick, Council Members Robert Jackson, chair of the City Council Education committee, Jessica Lappin, chair of the subcommittee on public siting, and David Yassky of Brooklyn. Rich Farkas, the VP of the UFT also spoke, as well as Manhattan BP Scott Stringer, who orchestrated the entire proceedings with his usual flair.

Special thanks to the 5th graders at PS 3 who brought wonderful signs, including, “Sardines have more room” and “Bloomberg: give kids more room to bloom!”

Gotham Schools has photos of the rally and I have uploaded more here.

It was a day of both highs and lows, since the Council hearings that followed featured the usual DOE spin. Deputy Mayor Walcott, Deputy Chancellor Grimm, Garth Harries, and Liz Sciabarra were out to convince skeptical Council members that everything was rosy.

They kept on droning about “pocket” overcrowding, as though this problem was limited to isolated neighborhoods – rather than the systemic crisis revealed by their own data – showing that more half of million students are in classes exceeding the targets in their class size reduction plan, and according to the DOE "Blue book", 38 percent of NYC students attend overcrowded schools Not to mention that according to our survey, half of all principals say that the capacity figures for their own schools are inaccurate, and understates the extent of overcrowding at their schools.

Council members repeatedly tried to get real answers – or at least get them to concede that a serious problem existed, but no such luck.

Deputy Mayor Walcott testified that because of past mismanagement, 20,000 seats out of 60,000 seats in the previous five year capital plan were never built. He omitted the fact that nearly half of the 63,000 seats in the current capital plan will probably not be completed when this plan concludes in June.

When Garth Harries, Chief Portfolio Officer, was asked when they would be able to reduce class size to 20 in grades K-3 in all elementary schools – more than 60% of whom are still in classes of 21 or more -- as the city originally promised would occur by June 2009, he responded that he was unable to say.

When Kathleen Grimm was asked when they would be able to eliminate trailers and TCUs, another goal they originally promised would occur by June, she replied that many principals like their trailers and didn’t want them removed. (!!) She also said that overcrowding at District 2 schools like Salk and Clinton middle schools were the result of their being too popular with parents– as though nearly every other middle school in D2 wasn’t severely overcrowded as well.
When Dennis Walcott was asked how many additional seats would be needed to meet the city’s goals in their state-mandated Contract for Excellence plan, (20 students per grade in K-3 and 23 in all other grades), he responded that this “depended on one’s mindset.”

When Walcott was asked about the results of our principal’s survey, which showed that 86% of NYC principals said that they were unable to provide a quality education because of excessive class sizes, and that 50% reported that overcrowding made it unsafe for students or staff, he shrugged this off, and responded that of course, all principals would like to have more room.

It was a typical administration performance, full of obfuscation and excuses, an attempt to define the problem away or blame others rather than confront the problems directly or provide any real answers.

Following several hours of this, MBP Scott Stringer finally got a chance to testify, as did State Sen. Liz Krueger, both of whom gave strong statements about the need to build more schools and reform the planning process.

Other speakers included Prof. Emily Horowitz, who summarized the results of our principal’s survey, and Doug Israel of the Center for Arts Education, who spoke about the need for more art and music rooms. I had to leave at 2 PM before the hearings were completed so I don’t have a complete list, but I know that other parent leaders testified as well.

Meanwhile, please see the press release along with the ABC letter, with its impressive list of signers -- including prominent advocates and elected officials from the city, state, and federal levels.

Here is also an updated copy of our principal survey report, as well as the CSM testimony, complete with charts.

Don’t forget to send a fax to the Mayor, demanding a better capital plan; just go to the UFT website today!

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