Thursday, May 28, 2009

Bloomberg Education Record Undermining Reelection Campaign - Daily News

Daily News columnist Errol Louis has some excellent insights in this column entitled "Why earth's richest Mayor won't coast to a third term".

Apparently, the fact that the $15 million in campaign ads has failed to move the mayor's poll numbers has his high priced campaign staff in a panic.

Louis points to recent poll results where a strong majority of the public call for Bloomberg's control over schools to be loosened:
While a majority of New Yorkers like the job he's done on the schools, 60% of registered voters also say control should be taken from City Hall and turned over to an advisory panel - a stinging rebuke to Bloomberg at a crucial moment in his battle to retain power over the schools.
Clearly, the cumulative effect of the mayor's many missteps on education have taken their toll on the public school parents who constitute a key set of voters. And beyond those directly affected by schools policy, the well-documented bungling of key tasks such as school construction planning has shattered Bloomberg's image as the model of the competent municipal manager.

Full article in the News here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Budget Cuts for 2010 -- Klein's Council Testimony

Cuts to schools will total $405 million, cuts to central $20 million.

Remarks made by Chancellor Klein to the City Council are here and a single slide here.

The Marine Park community comes out to protect their public school

Last night the Marine Park community in Brooklyn came out in numbers to voice their opinion regarding the placement of the Hebrew Language Charter school inside Marine Park Junior High School. All in all it was a great meeting, and included over 900 people, parents, community people, and elected officials.

We packed the entire auditorium with standing room all the way out the doors. The overwhelming majority were against the forced entry of the charter into the existing building. The charter people came and spoke about their wonderful program, etc. but the issue at this point if not whether we are for or against charters but its placement in the public school.

Congressman Anthony Weiner, City Council Member Lew Fidler, Comptroller Bill Thompson and Senator Marty Golden spoke vehemently against the placement. Assembly Member Alan Maisel and Senator Carl Kruger were up in Albany and sent reps who also indicated that they were totally against the idea. Many people spoke and offered alternate possible sites – but not in any public school. It seemed very pertinent to Ms. Sarah Berman, the founder of the charter school, as well as Mr. John While of the DOE that they had 300 signatures of people who wanted the charter. The committee at IS 278 presented them with over 7000 bound signatures on petitions against this placement.

It was also pointed out by one of the speakers that if Michael Steinhardt, Ms. Berman’s billionaire father, were not a personal friend of Mr. Bloomberg this placement would not even be an issue.

Mr. White of the DOE dangled the carrot that if we went for this for the two years they would then let Marine Park have the 6 - 12 program they have been asking for four years now. He was told that the carrot and stick wouldn't work.

He also promised that the charter school would sign a memo of understanding that they would get out after the two years. He was again told that with the track record of the DOE, we didn't believe that either. This is especially true, since he himself said at the town hall meeting the previous week, when questioned what would they do if the Charter still didn't have a space after two years, he said to the effect we couldn't throw the kids out on the street.

A video of this earlier meeting can be viewed at the

Last night, the DOE mostly just listened while person after person stated valid reasons why they did not want the charter housed in Marine Park JHS. At times their boredom was apparent, but the parents and community intend to continue this fight. -- Dorothy Giglio

Mike to Voters: “Drop Dead”

May 27, 2009 (GBN News): Mayor Michael Bloomberg today proposed a major change to the City Charter, which would drastically overhaul the way city officials are selected, and would greatly expand the power of the Mayor. At a City Hall news conference, Mr. Bloomberg expressed frustration at what he termed the “cumbersome” electoral process. He said that “voters need to back off and stop interfering with the process of governing. You don’t want voters setting city policy”. The Mayor went on to say, “That is what you have professionals for.”

Mr. Bloomberg, who only last year was able to get term limits set aside so that he could run for a third term, is now proposing that the Mayor directly select a majority of the City Council members. While the Borough Presidents will be allowed to choose some of the Council members, the Mayor’s majority would be enough to pass any significant legislation. This “Mayoral Control” of the legislative process would be loosely modeled on the way in the Mayor exercises control over the Panel for Educational Policy, the city’s school board.

However, the Charter changes will go a step further. Every four years, the appointed City Council, not the voters, would select the next Mayor. They could re-elect the current Mayor or choose a new one. But if the current Mayor does not approve of the choice, he could fire Council members at will, immediately name their replacements, and then call for a new vote. Mr. Bloomberg did take pains to reassure voters that they will not be without a say in the process. There will be a non-binding “straw vote” prior to the Council vote, in which the public could “advise” the Council as to their preferences.

Mr. Bloomberg said that by taking control of the electoral and legislative process, he can extend throughout city government the progress that has been made under Mayoral control of the schools. “Let the professionals run the city,” the Mayor said. “By ‘professionals’, of course, I mean professional business people like myself. Who, after all, is better qualified to give out all those no-bid contracts?”

The Mayor indicated that he would spend as much of his own substantial fortune as necessary to get the Charter amended in time for the next citywide elections in November. “This will be my greatest philanthropic gift to the people of New York City,” said Mr. Bloomberg. “It will insure that they get the best Mayor possible, in perpetuity.”

While a number of political observers were skeptical that the City Charter could be amended so quickly, J. Fredrick Runson, head of the Political Science department at Manhattan University, sees a precedent in the way the Mayor was able to overturn term limits. “When you’ve got billions, the difficult may take a little time,” he said. “But the impossible takes no time at all.”

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bloomberg's School Planning Failure - NY Magazine

A long article in this week's NY Magazine dissects the failure of the Bloomberg administration to provide schools for Manhattan's growing population.


Though the squeeze seemed sudden, it wasn’t sparked by the recession; the DOE had not been swarmed by downturned private-school families. (Girded by their own deep waiting lists, private schools can’t keep up with record demand; they harvest their 2,500 or so kindergartners, boom times or bust.) In reality, the public-school squeeze was a matter of demography. As Manhattan’s post-9/11 baby boom produced more and more youngsters in recent years, schools took more kindergarten sections than they’d been designed to hold. This just happened to be the year they ran out of extra rooms. “They knew this was coming,” says Andrew Beveridge, a Queens College demographer. “But they’re acting like, ‘Oh, Jesus, this is a surprise.’ ”

It's a searing indictment of an administration that was supposed to be all about management prowess. The DOE's only response? Blame Giuliani, who hasn't been mayor since 2001. DOE executive John White: “That’s the old school board’s lag, and we are living out the results.” So much for "accountability".

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Yet more evidence of Bloomberg's utter disdain for NYC parents

See the article, BLOOMY TO SCHOOL PARENTS: BACK OFF, in which the mayor insisted on WOR-radio that “parents should butt out of trying to dictate educational policy as the debate over mayoral control of the schools intensifies."

"You do not want parents setting educational policy. You do not want parents telling teachers how to teach. Teachers would not be happy about that," Bloomberg said on his WOR radio program. "That's what you have professionals for," he added.

What’s particularly obnoxious is that while Bloomberg is contemptuous of parents and says educators not parents should be in charge, the reality is that he has disempowered both parents and educators in his effort to privatize and corporatize the system. Indeed, only two out of twenty of the top bureaucrats at Tweed are educators. The truth is that Bloomberg wants to bulldoze over everyone who stands in the way of his destructive and inequitable policies.

His evident unconcern about the dangers to our kids from the swine flu and his refusal to close schools where up to half of the students are absent reminds me of his insistence on eliminating bus routes in the middle of winter two years ago; or his refusal to allow students to carry cell phones to school because, as he put it, all they will use them for is to call their parents to ask what’s for dinner.

Below are more comments from Steve Koss, public school parent and former teacher:

The level of contempt this Mayor has for public school parents -- and the citizenry in general -- would be astonishing in any public figure, but in a man who is ostensibly running in an upcoming election, it's simply extraordinary. Every time he opens his mouth, words come out that reflect a billionaire's arrogance, aloofness, and lack of empathy for and understanding of ordinary New Yorkers' lives.

The Mayor tells everyone not to worry about flu, that just because there are a few people sick, "That it doesn't mean you stop living." Until a beloved Queens teacher and assistant principal dies and the Mayor dismissively rationalizes continued school operation with 40-60% of the kids absent as a day care issue.

Norman Seabrook, union head for corrections officers at Rikers Island complains about the spread of flu among inmates there, and the Mayor's typically sarcastic response is, "If he is an epidemiologist, it's the first time I've heard of it." Nor, the last time I heard of it, was Mr. Bloomberg.

Parents want a meaningful voice in the policies affecting their children's education, and the Mayor tells them by radio interview to butt out, that they're neither needed nor wanted. And while he's at it, he reverts back to his usual scare tactics that any parental input is tantamount to destroying what he's built (such a bad idea??) and that it will automatically return NYC public education to "the bad old days."

It would be pleasant if just once, this Mayor at least acted like cares, even if inside he could care less. Of course, Mr. Bloomberg doesn't have to worry about offending parents or anyone else, since he has already haughtily subverted their will on term limits and bought and paid for both the City Council and the election itself.

If you think about it, it's simply astonishing to realize that later this year, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers will be voting for this bitter, intolerant, humorless, and affectless individual (I can't bring myself to use the words human being) as their Mayor for another four years. Or more, if Mike decides he wants to stick around. After all, what Mikey wants, Mikey gets, no more how much it costs him or how much pain it inflicts on the average New Yorker about whom he cares so little.

-- Steve Koss

Dueling opeds in today's Daily News on Mayoral control

See the great oped by Arthur Goldstein in today’s Daily News against Mayoral control:

Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Our federal and state governments have checks and balances so no one person has total control, which is a synonym for dictatorship. City kids need reasonable class sizes and decent facilities. Under Mayor Bloomberg, class sizes just took their biggest leap in 10 years.

An oped from the opposite point of view by Marc Sternberg, the principal of Bronx Lab is here, with the headline “Accountability saved my dying school.” The truth is very different, of course.

Bronx Lab is one of the small schools that replaced Evander Childs, a large failing school in the Bronx. Yet rather than save Evander Childs, DOE allowed it to die, and instead opened new schools with completely different types of students in its place.

As Eduwonkette noted in 2007, before Evander had been finally closed:

On every dimension, the Evander incoming 9th graders are lagging behind academically - they are more likely to be in special education or to be classified as ELL, they are much more likely to be overage for their grade (i.e. they had been retained before), their attendance rates in junior high school were much lower, and they were much less likely to be proficient in reading and math.

Of particular note is the praise showered on Bronx Lab at the end of the 2004-2005 school year - see this NY Times article - but 46.6% of their kids were proficient in reading and 52.7% in math when they walked in the door, while Evander's entering students passed at rates of only 11.1% in reading and 12.8% in math. How did the reporter miss this? ….Comparing these schools is either incredibly foolish or incredibly dishonest - and I don't think the folks running NYC schools are foolish.”

What else? Oh yes, according to the DOE’s statistics, Bronx Lab has class sizes this year ranging from 13 to 25. Meanwhile, most of our large high schools – including the one that Arthur Goldstein teaches at – continue to have class sizes of 34, and the DOE refuses to help them improve by giving them the space and resources to reduce class size, despite a state mandate that would require this.

In fact Joel Klein recently said that if he had his way, he would shrink the teaching force by 30% -- which would consign the schools attended by most of our neediest students to class sizes of 45 or more.

This is the future we face, if Bloomberg and Klein are left unimpeded by any checks and balances, as is currently recommended by the billionaire boys club of Bloomberg, Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Mort Zuckerman and Rupert Murdoch. None of whom, incidentally, would ever send their own children to a school where class sizes are larger than fifteen.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Charter school students as the "jewels" of the DOE

In recent days we are hearing a lot about Mayoral Control and whether it should be continued or not, changed or left the same. The Mayor said many times he wants to be judged on how he handles the schools.

Well right now, the parents and community of Marine Park in Brooklyn are involved in a real life struggle with the Department of Education. A struggle that would never have existed except for the current system of Mayoral Control.

In order to satisfy the whims of a newly established charter school, one whose founders clearly stated if they were allowed their charter would find their own space and would definitely not look to enter any public school building, has now shown their real colors as they attempt to force their way into an existing neighborhood junior high school, IS 278.

This would never even have become an issue if we still had Community School Boards that actually answered to the community and had some real power. Instead the DOE does as it wants. Against the will of the people, the elected representatives, the civic associations etc.

But worse of all, it became really apparent the contempt that the DOE holds the parents and students of New York City. Last night at a town hall meeting held by Sen. Marty Golden where this issue was raised at a packed house and the opposition of everyone there was apparent, Mr. John White of the DOE stated that the 150 children scheduled to be in the charter school are the "jewels" of the DOE.

I guess that means that the 1100 children currently attending
IS 278 as well as the numbers of students that would attend this school in the future are just dross to the DOE. They are throwaways. Why care what happens to them, their education, their class sizes, and the programs that help them or the quality of their school day -- all of which will be sacrificed because of the forced entry of this charter school? Why care what happens to a neighborhood school that has worked for years to improve the success of their children? They don't matter because to the Mayor and the DOE they are not the "jewels".

Mr. White also stated those 150 families signed up in the charter are taxpayers who have rights. More rights, I guess, than the thousands of taxpayers that have already signed petitions against this placement throughout the community.

So that is what they think of our children and anyone not involved in their charter schools. That is the result of Mayoral Control.

--Dorothy Giglio, long time parent leader in District 22

For more on the Hebrew Language Charter school, which has announced an intention to take space inside IS 278, a Title One school in Brooklyn, see this Daily news article and Diane Ravitch's oped here.

A mother's angry testimony to the City Council

Hi, my name is Denise Bigo-Early. I am a parent of five year old twins on the ninety child kindergarten wait list at our zoned, public school. I’m anxious, sleep deprived, and angry. Not a good combination for a parent speaking before the City Council for the first time.

I have to put up with $5 trillion of crushing new national debt to bail out the ineptly run banks on Wall Street. I have to put up with my tax dollars going to bonuses for the reckless that run those banks. I have to put up with $100 K disability pensions for LIRR workers who are not disabled. I have to put up with pay to play in our state and city.

I cannot put up with my five year olds being shut out of our zoned, public school; nor with the DOE promise of a seat somewhere in the five boroughs. There has been a lot of talk about keeping our five year olds close to home, but their only written communication to parents promises seats somewhere in NYC.

Some 25% of incoming kindergartners are on a wait list in my PS 3 + 41 zone. A dozen District 2 schools have wait lists. In District 1, PS 130 and PS 124 on Confucius Plaza are overcrowded.

I hope my children will be lucky and get into either PS 3 or PS 41. If they do, what awaits them? Not a lunch hour, but lunch minutes – 10 minutes, that begin at 10:30, In PS 3 there are five toilets for over 200 five year olds, huge chunks of plaster about to fall off walls in the stair wells, and mice. We are in a crisis. Business as usual must stop.

Some blame for this disaster falls at your feet. You had to know about the construction boom. Developers made hundreds of millions of dollars selling two- and three-bedroom condos in the West Village and Chelsea. Where are all of those children supposed to go to school? Over the last years, you let the DOE cram more and more children into schools that are cracking at the seams.

Now, you have before you the School Capital Spending plan. Instead of putting more money to the construction of badly needed schools, it contains a $ 2.5 Billion decrease from the previous budget! Vote against this budget. Fight for our children and insist that schools be built in our neighborhoods now.

You may be told that schools are planned in our neighborhood, like the one at the Foundling Hospital scheduled to come on line in several years. It will be overcrowded with the children from new construction not yet finished. We need more schools NOW. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t have the money. Our city, state and country are awash in money going to the wrong places. You must redirect the money to our children and invest in schools before more children are shut out. -- Denise Bigo-Early

For more on the problem of school overcrowding, and those hundreds of Kindergarten students on wait lists, check out

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Public Prefers Shared Control of Schools: 2 to 1

NY1's latest poll shows 61% of the public wants the mayor to share control vs. 30% who would have him retain sole control. These numbers confirm earlier findings of a Marist poll.

Flu Closures and Attendance Rates Posted Daily by DOE

The DOE has begun posting the list of schools closed for H1N1 as well as daily attendance rates for all schools on its website. Here is how they have explained the process for determining if a school should be closed:

It is important to recognize that low attendance at a particular school does not indicate an outbreak of influenza. In determining whether a school merits closing, the Health Department looks for spikes in absences and follows up to determine whether schools are seeing actual increases in flu-like illness. The Health Department works with school nurses to track the number of students being diagnosed during the school day with fevers of 100.4 or above and another flu symptom, such as a sore throat or a cough. If a school experiences a sudden or sustained increase in documented flu-like illness, the Health Department may advise closing it to slow the spread of infection. Absenteeism alone is not a basis for closure.

Friday, May 15, 2009

GBN News Editorial: The Torture Debate

There has been much controversy of late as to how to deal with those in government who have carried out a policy of torture and abuse. One line of thinking is that the perpetrators should be prosecuted, both to punish them and to deter anyone from committing such acts in the future. The other school of thought is that actual prosecutions could be divisive, but that exposing the wrongdoers and reversing their policies would be enough to prevent the recurrence of such actions.

GBN News sees merit in both of these arguments. However, it is the opinion of this space that the disposition of the perpetrators is of less concern than the need to insure that these abuses are stopped for good. Therefore, let the legal fate of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein fall where it may. What is most important is that their torturous reign over the city schools be ended, and that the system be given back to those who have a true stake in it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Accountability - It's More Than Just a Word

“Mayoral control represents Mike’s unique style of governing – one focused on accountability, competent management, and independent, non-partisan leadership.”
(Mike’s Record – Education,

"I was hired to make the schools better," Mr. Bloomberg has said. "Hold me responsible." (New York Times, August 26, 2005)

“Today, there are people who disagree strongly with our priorities and who focus exclusively on the mistakes we have made. But whether they agree or disagree, no one questions that the Mayor and I are accountable for the state of our City’s schools.” (Joel Klein, February 6, 2009, testimony before State Assembly Education Committee)

“Then in 2002, the State Legislature…passed the Mayoral Control law, which puts the mayor in charge of the schools. Now parents know who they can hold the accountable for their schools: the Mayor.” (Learn NY website,

It is indeed fitting that the prospective sunsetting of mayoral control over NYC’s public schools coincides this year with the massively-financed revving up of Michael Bloomberg’s re-election campaign, a third-term bid that contemptuously subverts the twice previously expressed will of the people in voter referendums. Regardless, this fortuitous timing creates an opportune moment to consider the core principle and justification for mayoral control: accountability.

When Mayoral Control of NYC’s public schools became law in 2002, the State Legislature’s primary justification, actively supported by Mr. Bloomberg, was the creation of accountability. The former community school board system was widely perceived as lacking in decision-making ability and accountability, allegedly subject instead to the whims of “interest groups” that put themselves ahead of children. Endlessly and without fail since 2002, the Mayor and his “accountable only to me” Chancellor have uttered the words accountable and accountability more often than a Buddhist monk chanting “Om” on his prayer beads. But what does it really mean?

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics' definition of accountability opens with the following sentence:

The requirement for representatives to answer to the represented on the disposal of their powers and duties, act upon criticisms or requirements made of them, and accept (some) responsibility for failure, incompetence, or deceit.

Accountability is variously expressed elsewhere in terms of responsibility to and/or for somebody or something, answerability, and liability to be called on to render an account, and the obligation to bear the consequences for failure to perform as expected. Three key elements emerge from these various definitions: responsibility, answerability, and liability for consequences. The Mayor and Chancellor swear to the ends of the earth about responsibility, and they’ve achieved it at least in part by doing everything conceivable to neuter or eliminate anyone, from the City Council and PEP to the UFT and parents, who might seek otherwise. Perhaps sole responsibility is a plus, but what about answerability and liability for consequences?

Here, the answers are crystal clear, and clearly not a plus. Messrs. Bloomberg and Klein have repeatedly behaved (and effectively stated) that they are answerable to no one. Not only are they not answerable, they act with wanton disregard of public input, treating public forums with haughty disdain as little more than obligatory guest appearances in which (in Mr. Klein’s case) his Blackberry is far more interesting than public input.

As to liability for consequences, the Chancellor serves solely at the Mayor’s pleasure and thus stands never to suffer consequences unless the political stakes for the Mayor should somehow demand it. At the next higher level, New Yorkers get one chance to hold the Mayor accountable, during an election that is so blatantly bought and paid for it would shame the worst of banana republics (a feeling which New Yorkers, depressingly, seem not to share). What we’re witnessing these days is the run-up not to an election but to democracy as benevolent dictatorship, purchased by a billionaire technocrat with as much empathy for everyday New Yorkers as Bernie Madoff showed for his victimized investors.

Imagine for a moment Mr. Klein announcing one day that the city’s public schools are now going to teach intelligent design, or that sex education will be reduced to “abstinence only” discussion, or that schools will have a mandatory one minute of silent prayer each morning, or that only high school students with GPA's in excess of 85 will be permitted to take the PSAT in their schools. Exactly how would we hold Mr. Bloomberg accountable under the existing version of mayoral control? Wait for him to decide he wants a fourth term and hope someone can come up with enough millions to keep up with his billions?

Even for those who agree one hundred percent with Mayor Bloomberg’s past educational initiatives, what of the next Mayor (assuming Mr. Bloomberg decides the office is not his to keep for life)? Are NYC public schools always to be held captive to the whims of one individual, giving him or her four years of unrestricted power over children’s education. No one can give a child back even one year of lost or misdirected education.

No matter how Shelly Silver, Chris Quinn, Al Sharpton, Geoffrey Canada, Randi Weingarten, or Mr. Zuckerman and Mr. Murdoch at the Daily News and NY Post slice it, accountability under the current system of mayoral control simply does not exist. Without it, we’re left with mayoral dictatorship and a hugely financed public relations campaign that leaves most New Yorkers spun with one-sided misinformation about the reality of their children’s schools. Along with a Mayor whose response to the question of what citizens could do if they were unhappy with the decisions emanating from mayoral control of schools came down to, "Boo me at parades."

As a former NYC public high school teacher and active parent leader, I simply don’t know how to put it any other way to the members of the State Legislature than to get down on one virtual knee and beg:

Please, good sirs and madams. Please do not allow mayoral control to continue without implementing appropriate checks and balances and at least some real measures of answerability and liability for consequences. Anything less constitutes abandonment of your collective responsibility for the welfare of over a million children and their families.

Parents Vote NO on Mayoral Control As Is in Latest Marist Poll

Polls being what they are, and this one appearing to be drawn from a rather small sample size (N=741, with 548 being registered voters) that gives sub-group breakdowns even larger margins of error, the latest Marist Poll still suggests several fascinating results. First, despite the Mayor's and Chancellor's never-ending drumbeat about racial performance gaps and education as a civil right, it's African American (64%) and Latino (74%!!) respondents who want schools out of the Mayor's hands. Among Whites, only 50% preferred an appointed citywide panel (PEP).

In addition, the Mayor's and Chancellor's overwhelming focus on Manhattan (look at Harlem, for example), to the detriment of the other four boroughs seems to be having a similar effect. Manhattanites are least interested in a strengthened PEP at 54%, with Queens respondents at 58%, Staten Islanders at 60%, and Brooklyn and Bronx respondents at 65% and 66%, respectively. Interesting as well that a higher percentage of moms (Women) than dads (Men) opt for taking schools out of the Mayor's hands, by a 64% to 56% margin.

Also, the largest differential in responses came by age group (under 45 versus 45 or older). Those under 45, the age group most likely to include public school parents or parents facing the prospect of putting their children into the system, voiced 73% (!!) support for lessening the Mayor's control in favor of a legitimately-
empowered PEP. Only 51% of those over age 45 did so, but they represent the population least likely to be intimately connected to schools and most prone to basing their knowledge on what they read in the newspapers (all ridiculously pro-Mayoral control) or hear in advertisements (all bought and paid for by and/or through the Mayor's and DOE's P.R. machine).

Not surprisingly, when parents (who obviously have most at stake concerning public education) were separated from the rest of the respondents, a full 67% of them favored putting school control in "an appointed citywide Panel on Education Policy." We can all rest assured they were contemplating a newly-empowered PEP, and not the Panel of Eight Puppets (plus Patrick Sullivan) now pointlessly in place.

Shelly Silver and Christine Quinn -- we hope you're paying attention!

Marist poll on Mayoral control

In the latest Marist poll, voters say that rather than mayoral control of our schools, 60 percent would prefer that the "responsibility be given to an appointed citywide Panel on Education Policy.”

Among parents, 27 percent supported mayoral control, while 67 percent favored the citywide panel.

In the Quinnipiac Poll in March, voters said they'd like the Mayor to share control with the City Council (53-37) or with the borough presidents (50-41). In several earlier polls, including the July Quinnipiac poll, most voters said that the Mayor should share power with an independent board. Then Quinnipiac dropped that choice because they said that “independent” was too positive a word.

In any case, there appears to be a consistent desire on the part of the public for checks and balances when it comes to determining education policy in this city, rather than one man rule – despite what Bloomberg and his billionaire buddies, Mort Zuckerman, Rupert Murdoch and Eli Broad, might like.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Manhattan Borough President Stringer Explains Vote Against School Capital Plan

May 6, 2009

Dear Manhattan Public School Parent:

As you all know, our City, and especially the borough of Manhattan, is facing a severe public school overcrowding crisis, with overcrowded classrooms affecting educational quality and parents being told that there may no longer be room for their child at their zoned public school or pre-K of choice.

Last Monday evening, the Panel for Educational Policy voted on the 2010-2014 School Capital Plan, which spells out the Department of Education’s plans for new school construction and repair over the next five years. As some of you may already be aware, my appointee to the Panel for Educational Policy, Patrick Sullivan, voted against approving the proposed Five-Year Capital Plan. Although the plan was passed by the Panel and will therefore now be voted on by the City Council, I thought it important to share with you the reasons that Patrick and I felt this was not the right plan to recommend to the Council.

We all understand the seriousness of the fiscal crisis facing our city. Getting through these tough times will require shared sacrifice, and our school system will have to shoulder its fair share of the costs. However, even with this understood, the proposed capital plan is unacceptably inadequate to meet our obligations to our children’s futures. Building schools is an investment in our future that we can’t afford not to make.

In 2008, I issued two reports, Crowded Out, and Still Crowded Out, which documented how, during the building boom, residential construction in many Manhattan neighborhoods far outpaced school capacity growth. This planning failure set the stage for the crisis we are in today. In early October, I joined with most of your elected representatives, as well as parents, educators, and advocates across the city, to launch the Campaign for A Better Capital Plan, an effort to persuade the Department of Education to provide the capital investment our public school children need. Our campaign appealed to the Mayor and Chancellor for three fundamental reforms, the ABC’s of A Better Capital Plan.

While our campaign raised critical awareness of school overcrowding issues, and accomplished some important reforms to the planning process, ultimately the plan brought to the Panel for Educational Policy for approval failed to fully encompass these important reforms:

A. Address existing overcrowding and reduce class size

When released in 2004, the current Five-Year Capital Plan promised to: 1) end the reliance on Transportable Classroom Units (TCUs) and mini-schools over twenty years old; 2) implement class-size reduction in 100% of Kindergarten – Grade 3 classes (to a target of twenty seats); and 3) alleviate high school overcrowding and split sessions.

None of these goals have been achieved in Manhattan. The new plan also does not align with class size reduction targets submitted to the State Education Department under the Contracts for Excellence regulations.

The need for new capacity is acute and obvious in many parts of Manhattan. No new seats are proposed for District 6 in Northern Manhattan, and the 600 in the pipeline from the previous plan are well short of the 940 needed to replace TCUs, the 866 needed to bring K-3 class size to 20, and the 540 needed to reduce class sizes to DOE targets. A district that needs thousands of seats will get none.

Waitlists for Kindergarten seats have spread to many Manhattan elementary schools in District 2 and 3 with hundreds of children still without a school. Upper East Side elementary schools are collectively 1,070 students over capacity with no new schools scheduled for construction. This disturbing reality is compounded by DOE’s own demographic projections which show an 18.5% increase in the number of children for District 2 from 2005 to 2015.

These are just a few specific examples – similar problems exist in Greenwich Village and Chelsea, the Upper West Side, Lower Manhattan, East Midtown and the Flatiron, and parts of Harlem, to name just a few areas.

The proposed capital plan proposes no new high schools anywhere in Manhattan, and many growing neighborhoods throughout the borough will apparently go without any new schools of any kind. Only one of the borough’s six school districts will see new school construction, and even that will occur at a level that is inadequate to meet existing overcrowding conditions, to say nothing of planning for future growth.

The 3,296 seats of new capacity proposed in the Capital Plan for Manhattan represent a nearly 40% reduction from the amount proposed in the previous capital plan. This falls far short of what is necessary to address the chronic overcrowding found across Manhattan. The DOE should propose an amount of school construction necessary to eliminate existing overcrowding, reduce class sizes to the numbers agreed to in Contracts for Excellence, and plan for ongoing growth.

B. Be ready for growth and plan at the neighborhood level

One of the central elements of my reform proposals is that we must start looking at school planning from the perspective of urban planners and development analysts. DOE and SCA should work with their colleagues at City Planning and HPD, as well as other planning experts and communities, to establish a clear, transparent procedure for projecting future growth from new development. The Capital Plan should include a projection of the number of new housing units expected next year, and disclose the estimated impact on local schools, at the neighborhood level, not just at the level of School Districts, because New Yorkers have a reasonable expectation that there will be a school in their neighborhood for their young children to attend.

On this, there is some good news. For the first time, DOE acknowledged our request to project demand at the neighborhood level rather than simply at the district level, as had been their practice in the past. This is an important reform that should yield far better planning in the future.

However, despite repeated requests from Patrick and other members of the PEP, the DOE has not provided a detailed needs analysis at any geographic level. While the new plan proposes amounts of seats for some specific District 2 neighborhoods, there is no demonstration of how the various drivers of demand – new housing, alleviation of overcrowding, class size reduction, recovery of cluster spaces or removal of TCUs – combine into a number of seats we need to provide. And the DOE could not quantify the growth of charter schools in DOE facilities.

The DOE should openly and transparently estimate demand, then spell out the amount of new construction required to meet its basic educational goals. Capital funding can then be allocated rationally and the City can prioritize appropriately.

C. Correct the faulty capacity estimates

The Capital Plan’s assumptions about the current state of school overcrowding are based on the City’s current capacity statistics as reported in the DOE’s “Blue Book”. But according to principals, teachers, parents – and even the State’s highest court, in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision – these official estimates overstate the true capacity of neighborhood schools.

Art and music rooms, science laboratories, special education services, and libraries are all central to the well-rounded education our children deserve. As Patrick pointed out on Monday, the DOE Office of Portfolio Development instructs administrators to use an outdated method of allocating cluster spaces which allows fewer art and science rooms for each school than what is correct under the current formula. As a result, schools rated at 100% of capacity are forced to close art and music rooms while those rooms closed years ago remain pressed into service as classroom space.

And, again, the Capital Plan is based on capacity numbers which assume higher class sizes than the City’s official target numbers at higher grades. To provide an appropriate frame of reference, the City should also measure school capacity based on the City’s official class size reduction targets. These were the promises that were made pursuant to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit and we must, at the very least, show how far we are from keeping them, and what progress is being made towards meeting the targets.


In the long run, as the Mayor has said, failing to invest in infrastructure like schools only makes tough times tougher. We can’t repeat the mistakes of the 1970s, when the City stopped investing in its future, families fled New York and took their tax base with them. In fact, new construction could be one of the best ways to encourage private sector growth and stimulate our economy.

In the “Crowded Out” reports, and in the work I have done with my Overcrowding Task Force, and as part of Campaign for A Better Capital Plan, I have made the case for reforms to the capital planning process. The Capital Plan should include a straightforward accounting of what it would take to reduce overcrowding and reduce class size. Then, we as a City need to make tough choices on how much we spend towards meeting that goal within the context of the City’s overall budget. We must have that debate as a City, and we must not shortchange the discussion by underestimating our needs from the start.

Patrick and I felt our public school children deserve better than the current capital plan. We hope you will continue working with us to keep fighting for the new school seats Manhattan children need to learn and grow.

I have no illusions about how difficult these challenges will be, but failing to rise to meet them is not an option.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact Verena Arnabal, my education policy analyst, at, or 212-669-4513.


Scott M. Stringer

Manhattan Borough President