Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A mother's letter to Mayor Bloomberg

This administration has been warned many times that school overcrowding in NYC was a huge problem and was getting worse, and has done nothing to prevent the crisis now upon us. In fact, the city’s share of capital spending invested in school construction and repair is at least a ten year low.

See the below letter to the Mayor, the Chancellor, and the US Secretary of Education, from a mother whose 5 year old, like hundreds more, has no place to attend school next year, because of the Mayor's utter refusal to attend to this issue. She puts it much better than I could.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan


I am a mother whose first child will be entering kindergarten this fall -- my second will enter the following year. I'm writing to you now because I am deeply disturbed by what is -- or more accurately, is not -- happening regarding Manhattan elementary schools, particularly those in my neighborhood.

You know (or should know) the current situation and its history. P.S. 151, located in District 2 on the Upper East Side, was closed in 2000 and later demolished. Rather than building a new school at another location, for nine years the DOE has placed children from P.S. 151-zoned families in other Upper East Side schools through a lottery process.

This year, of course, that is no longer feasible -- as former private-school parents are sending their children to public schools to help cut back on expenses, schools throughout Manhattan are filled beyond capacity. There are currently between four and five hundred children waiting for seats in the borough's public elementary schools; kindergarteners from the Upper East Side to Tribeca have been put on waiting lists. Obviously, without enough room for their own neighborhood children, UES schools could not be expected to take the P.S. 151 kindergarteners as well.

As a result, barely two months ago, P.S. 151 parents were abruptly informed that the lottery was being abolished (this was after many of us had spent months researching and visiting schools in our area, on the assumption that the lottery would be in force). Instead, we were told, there would be an actual P.S. 151 available in the fall. There was just one problem: the DOE had yet to find a site for the school.

Since then, parent organizations from the P.S. 151 zone have met regularly with the DOE to get the ball rolling on a school site in time for the fall. To put it bluntly, we have been appalled by the bureaucratic foot-dragging, lack of focus and high-handed attitude displayed by DOE officials. A few examples:

  • Their initial idea was to put entering kindergarteners into Robert F. Wagner Middle School -- side by side with 12-14-year-olds, with no library, play space or other facilities of their own. Later, they came up with a list of 12 other potential sites... but did not visit any of them until a few weeks ago.
  • Currently, the DOE is negotiating with the Archdiocese of New York to lease the building on East 91st Street formerly occupied by a parochial school, Our Lady of Good Counsel -- but they did not consider speaking with the Archdiocese until one of the parents paved the way for such discussions.
  • The DOE has refused to re-open the possibility of using the elementary school building on East 88th Street which currently houses Richard Green High School (whose students come from outside the neighborhood). This would be a perfect solution because unlike the other alternatives, it would be permanent -- the children would not have to be moved again in a year or two. But the Department supposedly abandoned the idea in the face of pressure from the high school's parents and the teacher's union. We understand their concerns, but we feel that the DOE should be able to come up with a relocation plan that they can accept, rather than simply backing down.

In sum, given the DOE's past and present conduct, we are very worried that they will not have a viable space ready by the fall, or will wind up warehousing our children in whatever space requires the least effort to set up. And despite their assurance that they will be able to construct a permanent site for the school over the next 2-3 years, we are concerned that they will "forget" their pledge and permanently leave students wherever they are placed in the coming school year. They do not seem to grasp that there are four months until the start of the next school year, and that our children are not objects to be stored in "whatever space is available."

What is particularly galling is that this is all going on as Mayor Bloomberg runs for re-election with education reform as one of his signature issues. Mr. Mayor, you are spending a good chunk of money on TV ads where you tout New York as "a great place to raise a family" -- I assume you are including the public schools in this assessment. How can you make this claim with a straight face, given the current crisis? I cannot help but recall the grandiose promises you made when the school system was revamped and Mr. Klein was installed as Chancellor. The two of you were going to eliminate politics, patronage and corruption, and deliver a school system driven by transparency, accountability and responsiveness. No doubt the system is "cleaner" than it was during the community-board era. But transparent? Accountable? Responsive?

Secretary Duncan, I have also addressed this letter to you because of your experience leading a big-city school system and your long commitment to serious educational reform. Would you have tolerated this kind of performance in Chicago? And is there anything your department can do to help resolve this situation?

My fellow parents and I cannot and will not sit by quietly and allow our children to be victims of bureaucratic negligence, laziness and inertia. We will be rallying next week in front of City Hall, and we will continue to press our case with our elected officials and in the media. We will not rest until the kindergartners of P.S. 151 -- and everywhere in the city -- are assured of a safe, workable space in which to begin their public school education. The three of you have staked your reputations on this promise; it is time to back it up with concrete action.

Respectfully yours,

Jacalyn Filler


Anonymous said...

Great letter. You should send this to the NY Times to print in the paper.

Anonymous said...

Right. Like that will ever happen.

Anonymous said...

How about Gracie Mansion for PS 151?

Anonymous said...

Gracie Mansion sounds like a great location for a school. It is an unused building right in the middle of the zone.

Anonymous said...

June 9, 2009

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

I am writing to you on behalf of my niece, who is currently attending Townsend Harris High School, located in Flushing Queens. I am quoting the following factual information received from THHS.

Townsend Harris High School is perennially ranked among New York City’s top high schools by several statistical measures. They have a track record of perfect or near-perfect graduation rates, credit accumulation, post-secondary enrollment in 4-year institutions, and student performance in classes and on Regents and Advanced Placement examinations. They are a diverse community of 1,083 learners who excel in academics, athletics, and activities.

The typical Townsend Harris student graduates with 58.8 credits, 14.8 more than the 44 required by the NYCDOE. Students take an average of 14 credits per year, including 10 credits of English (2 more than required by the NYCDOE). THHS requires 6 credits of a modern foreign language and 4 credits of a classical language, for a total of 10 foreign language credits (4 more than required by the NYCDOE). Their 2007-08 Progress Report score was an A. The Quality Review performed in March 2009 found the school to be well developed and cited the rich curriculum as an asset to the school and its students in differentiating instruction: “Students flourish within a rigorous and extensive curricula menu.”; “Students thrive within the rich, stimulating and extensive curriculum…” Townsend Harris ranked number 71 on U.S. News and World Report’s list of America’s best high schools because of the number of Advanced Placement courses offered to students. Intel named Townsend Harris a 2008 School of Distinction for its science program, which has a strong research program and requires all students to take three Regents exams in science.

Since July 2008, THHS has had to implement several budget reductions:
• Money for after-school activities cut by 47%
• Money for equipment and supplies cut by 50%
• Reduced administrative personnel costs by 18%

In order to maintain its academic and extracurricular offerings at their current level, THHS will need the following additional funding before the June 18th budget deadline:
• $274,000 to maintain current staffing needs
• $200,000 so that they can continue with after-school activities
• $89,000 in equipment and supplies
Total: $563,000

College-bound students need extensive academics and activities to be competitive in college admissions against top students from other schools in New York City and across the country. Their current budget allocation would require a reduction of a number of teachers, and such cuts to teaching staff would result in the reduction of course offerings, elimination of electives, and fewer credits earned upon graduation. Cuts to after-school activities will reduce the quantity and quality of this extra-curricular program. This budget cut will adversely affect college admissions and student outcomes. Restoring the $563,000 will enable THHS to maintain the highest quality education for the young people of New York City that has been providing for years.

I feel confident in saying that as parents and family members of such hard working students, we all want the best for our children. I believe you are an advocate for higher education, and pray you will consider this matter of the utmost importance.

Thank you for your time and concern.


Mrs. Donna Steiner