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Thursday, November 6, 2008

The city's capital plan for schools -- breathtakingly awful!

The new proposed 5-yr. capital plan for schools is posted here. This administration has once again surpassed any reasonable person's expectations in terms of the meagerness of their response to the ongoing crisis of overcrowding in our schools. City officials clearly do not care enough about providing our students with a decent education, from the evidence provided in this plan.

Only a measly 25,000 new seats are offered – over five years -- with 8,000 of those seats rolled over from the previous plan, when we know according to their own current data, we need at least 165,000 -- at least five times as many.

This needs assessment provided in our report, A Better Capital Plan, based on the figures in the DOE’s own Blue Book – adjusted to estimate the number of seats needed to eliminate existing overcrowding and lower class size to the goals in the city’s class size reduction plan.

At least 40% of students are in overcrowded schools according to their own statistics – and about 70% are in schools where the class sizes are larger their stated four year goals.

Compare the meager 25,000 seats to the 66,000 new seats in their last plan – which still was inadequate to meet the need. Despite the fact that at yesterday’s press conference, the Mayor acknowledged that “"We don't have enough classroom space for the number of students we have” and even, that it was likely to get worse as new families moved to NYC – the plan is astonishingly bad.

If you count the seats rolled over from the last plan, this means the city proposes creating only 17,000 new seats, compared to 66,000 when the last plan was introduced; only about one fourth as large.

Even the last plan was insufficient to meet any of its stated goals: to provide enough new seats to alleviate overcrowding, eliminate trailers and other temporary spaces, and reduce class size in all schools to 20 or less in grades K-3.

The above figure of more than 160,000 new seats does not even count the many areas of the city which are experiencing rapid growth, and where schools are already becoming even more overcrowded– without any attempt to create new space in schools --nor does it address the way in which the current utilization figures understate the actual level of overcrowding at many schools.

According to a survey, half of all NYC principals say that the DOE's utilization figures at their schools understates the actual level of overcrowding at their schools; 51% say that overcrowding sometimes led to unsafe conditions for students or staff; more than one fourth (26%) of all middle and high school principals said that overcrowding made it difficult for their students to receive the credits and/or courses needed to graduate on time, and 86% of all NYC principals said that they were unable to provide a quality education because of excessive class sizes.

The administration does not seem to be ready to honestly address the issue of overcrowding, no less provide our children with a decent education. The proposed new capital plan undercounts the need for new seats in elementary and middle schools in Manhattan by nearly 5,000, in the Bronx by more than 16,000; in Brooklyn by more than 13,000; in Queens by more than 15,000; and in Staten Island by more than 4,000 seats.

For high schools, the undersupply of new seats is even more shocking: though there is a need for at least 90,000 new HS seats, the plan would provide only about 2,600 IS/HS seats. Not a single new high school is proposed for Manhattan or Staten Island, even though there is a need for 12,000 new high school seats to eliminate overcrowding and reduce class size in Manhattan, more than 4,000 in Staten Island.

In the Bronx, not a single new HS seat is proposed, even though, there should be more than 16,000. In Brooklyn, there are only 1200 IS/HS seats proposed in the plan, while more than 27,000 HS seats are needed, and in Queens, while nearly 30,000 new HS seats needed, only one IS/HS is proposed – with only 4,679 seats.

Nowhere in the plan is it laid out what the actual need is to address overcrowding, reduce class size, and be ready for the enrollment growth that it already started to be experienced by neighborhoods all over the city – and that is likely to continue, as the population grows by a million over the next twenty years.

Compare the total amount spent on new capacity in Manhattan and the Bronx of $660 million – which is considerably less than the $800 million proposed for more technology.

To add insult to injury, the city expects the state to finance half of this plan up front and is planning to spend only $2.8 billion on new capacity over the next five years. With half of this paid for by the state, this means the city would be spending only $1.4 billion on school construction. Amortized over 30 years, this amounts to only $152 million a year, with half of that paid by the state – according to the state reimbursement formula.

Which means the city would only be paying out about $75 million annually for all new capacity. Compare that to the $302 million we are paying this year for charter school tuition; or the $423 million DOE projects for charter school payments for FY 2010.

The city has been devoting a rapidly shrinking share of its capital funding to schools over the last four years, as our report points out, and this trend would mean that this share would drop much lower still.

Here are some news clips: With Budget Shrinking, Schools Will Get Fewer New Buildings (NY Times); Ed Dept. plans 50% slash in new seats for students (Daily News); SCHOOL BUILDING IN DETENTION (NY Post); Less money for new schools in capital plan released today (Gotham Schools).

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