Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hearings and my testimony on the DOE's woefully inadequate preliminary capital budget

The NY City Council Education Committee held hearings on the Mayor’s Fiscal 2013 Preliminary Capital Budgeton March 26, 2012 at 250 Broadway. Education Chair Robert Jackson called the meeting to order at 10 am and read opening testimony, focused on how there are only 38,000 seats in the plan, though the DOE admits the need for 50,000 [actually the need is much higher, see my testimony here and below].  He also pointed out that the DOE was unable to spend many of the millions that were allocated to Verizon for technology upgrades, due to legal wrangling.  [Perhaps they are arguing over the fact that Verizon still hasn’t paid them back from the money they embezzled a few years back.]
Instead of investing the unspent funds into badly needed new seats, DOE instead shifted them into technology spending in future years.  Jackson also criticized the slow pace [10 years!] of the DOE’s plan to replace hundreds of PCB-leaking lights. As you can see from the below, many of the Council Members were justifiably aggravated about the severe overcrowding, Kindergarten waiting lists, the charter co-locations, PCBs, the fact they can't spend their capital allocations on Kindles[!], and other relevant failures of a capital plan that is woefully underfunded and has misplaced priorities.
Witnesses included DOE/SCA Panel: Kathleen Grimm (Deputy Chancellor of Operations, DOE) and Lorraine Grillo (CEO of School Construction Authority). Below is the account, transcribed by my brilliant researcher/intern, Elli Marcus.
Grimm: We are “delighted to report” that there are 10 new buildings and annexes are in use since last May. Since 2003, 107,000 new seats have been created citywide. We are in 3rd year of the 5 yr $11.2 billion plan. Two changes in this amendment: 5022 additional funded seats, for a total of 33,880 seats. We added additional capital improvement projects and a shift in tech funding to 2013/2014. We still have 16,186 unfunded seats due to “fiscal limitations”. [Actually need at least twice that large; see our testimony below]. Charter partnership program – small amount of city funding for charter construction [$250M!].
Shift of technolpogy funding to later years of plan is to “better align with the upgrades in tech building infrastructure” [Really, there’s apparently some sort of legal wrangling going on with Verizon.]. Public school system does continue to experience “pockets of overcrowding” [Hah! Problem is systemic and getting worse; last year there were waiting lists at 25% of elementary schools in March; this year the DOE refuses to release the data.]  Enrollment growth is a demonstration that our schools are getting better and that more families are staying in the public school system. [Actually, enrollment is growing nationwide, and DOE has utterly failed to project or address these demographic trends.]
CM Weprin: You say “Pockets of overcrowding” – you must be wearing cargo pants!  Our HS in Queens are particularly overcrowded; yet Van Buren HS – none of the MS students in its zone picked it. Why? Need to make Van Buren more attractive to MS 172, re brand it, to help alleviate overcrowding in other schools.  Disappointed that for the “technology administration,” we are still woefully behind using technology to help engage parents and help parents link up to the system to engage with their students and their classrooms.  Also, a lot of schools don’t have the electrical capacity to use the smartboards, computers, we give them – “it’s embarrassing.”
Grimm:  We are trying to engage parents. We hear you – we want to get back to you with a complete report on all we are doing. Re: schools – tech money is addressing schools and their capacity for the technology – we are aware of the wiring issues, it is expensive and takes time.
Ling Tan of DOE – We have a Parent Portal – a federal grant in pilot program for “Connected Learning” – trying to provide broadband at home in 178 middle schools.
CM Rose: CM Lander just released a report this morning showing District 31[Staten Island] has the worst public school overcrowding in NYC. There has been a 21% increase between 2009 and 2012 in elementary school classes at 30 or more– the largest increase among all the boroughs. SO, how did you identify the need for 3,218 seats in D31, you plan has only 1,704 funded, and added none [in this amendment]?
Grillo: We look at 5 and 10 yr growth in enrollment and housing. We did identify an additional need for seats but don’t have funding because we looked across the city where all the need is and balance that with possible places/sites.  Rose: Still, 1,514 seat deficit with your plan – we are the fastest growing district and borough – how can you accommodate this growth? We are up to 30 per class – how do you address this?  Grimm: We need to look to the next capital plan. In the meantime we are working with other DOE colleagues to see what we can put in place to balance this growth (such as grade reconfigurations to reduce overcrowding in elementary schools).
Rose: I hope one of these solutions is NOT co-locating other schools in buildings because that is NOT a solution. Also, questions re Verizon funds – why are you not repurposing these funds to reduce class size? Grimm: No, because we feel the need for tech is so great to prep our students for the future and for college.
CM Rodriguez: How many schools with Olympic pools are using those pools as storage due to lack of repairs? This is happening at George Washington HS! We need capital money to put the pool back in use. For GW HS, this is the only pool in the entire community/district. There is an urgency here. GW is in need in other areas as well.
CM Lappin: We have had two rezonings in two years in district 2 [Manhattan], and yet PS59 – newly built school, that’s highlighted in your ppt – already has a Kindergarten waitlist of 41 families!  PS 267 doesn’t have enough spots, with zoned families on a waitlist, PS 290 and PS 183 have waitlists, but PS 151 doesn’t. We have new buildings, two rezonings in the last two years, so why are we here?  There are errors – for example, we always were planning for 5 K’s in PS59, but then the building was designed for only four.
Grimm: We have worked from the beginning with the principal, community and parents on the design so I’m surprised you are surprised at the outcome. Regarding the K – nothing is final, parents also double book or go to G&T or private schools, so in the end all kindergarteners will have a spot. Lappin: First, there is no G&T nearby; last year the waitlist was 87 and maybe 6 children came off, so I’m sorry, we can’t anticipate a lot of movement from the list. We’ve done a zone readjustment twice – this is not acceptable!  I myself told a family not to move out of the city and told her there would be room for their child; they are living across the street from the school, and the child is on a waiting list!
CM Koppell: In the Blue book summary, D10 [in the Bronx] is one of the most overcrowded districts, second only to Queens. We’re the only district in Bronx and Manhattan that shows an overall overcapacity of schools. Still have 56 overcrowded schools in district 10.  Also, I am perturbed that the Blue Book lists MS as under capacity when I know that they aren’t. And, there are NO new seats for design – that’s the problem. It’s not like the population is going down, it’s going up.  PS8 and PS 56 are severely overcrowded, and an elementary school in the West Bronx was taken off the plan entirely.
Grimm: 1,406 seats are planned. Koppell: PS 19 – every class is 30 or over! We have severe overcrowding. Also, I want a survey of entrances of schools, especially HS – they should look inviting, not like a prison. Grimm: I agree with you, we want our schools to look inviting.
CM Ignizio: Regarding D31 [Staten Island] – how did you arrive at this need? I have a lot of specific questions for D31 and the funding for new seats.  Grillo: Let’s meet separately for this so we can have details for you. Ignizio: Re-zoning issue – do you look at multiple schools with capacity issues? PS8 wants additional students, PS55 is overcrowded, PS5 is small, prime to be a capital improvement school. So how do you look at zoning/housing starts in Staten Island? Grimm: we sit with SCA and Portfolio, look at the canopy of schools involved in districts.
CM Levin: We need to increase the amount of development in Brooklyn; if you look at BK Bridge Park and the rezoning in downtown BK, most of the development was going to be office towers but now its is residential – so we need more schools there. There is only ONE elementary school in the area. Are you looking at new elementary space?  Grimm: We monitor housing very closely. Grillo: We look at housing starts and continue to monitor need as it develops re:housing/population growth.
Levin: Re: PCB removal – next month is initial annual report [now posted]; in the testimony I saw they were leaks in 72 schools – the original number in the hearing. Have we made any progress? Grimm: 25 are in process, haven’t been finished yet. Also 148 bldgs have immediate replacement of leaking fixtures (not entire buildings) which are not counted in the 72 but which we are working on.
CM Vann:  Wrote to Walcott Feb 13 about PS54K – horrible situation – inadequate BATHROOMS with a stench permeating the building. This needs an immediate fix!
CM Reyna:  How many charter schools will be opened in district schools in 2012, and what is the cost?  Grimm: 25 charters will open [actually 28 according to the testimony of DOE the following day] and some of them will be co-located. There are 104 charters now co-located and more next year. There are 67 approved charter matching programs [the DOE has to match all capital improvements of co-located charters over $5,000 with the other schools in the building]. The match is for every school in the building, so not necessarily 1:1, if there is more than one school in the building.
Reyna: The charter school co-location at JS 50 with Success Academy – that school is coming in September, so when is the money spent for the charter match? Grimm: Charter has an approved co-location, makes an application for a project over $5K, then DOE has to approve it. If we approve it, it must be related to education efforts and instruction because we spend tax levy money to match it. No money has been spent now, that I know of, for September placements. Charters approved in Feb-April apply to us for matching funds before spending their money in our building; the spending occurs mainly in summer. We talk with the principals of the district schools – we only mirror the dollar amount, not necessarily spend the money in the same way.
Reyna: So the only reason a school is getting money/needs met could be because of a co-location? So you have to reallocate funding for this? Grimm: No, we have a budget now for matching funds. It is only 2 yrs in, so we are still working it out. We call in the charter partners, tell them the money we have to spend, and ask them to pull back on requests accordingly. “It’s a win-win partnership.” [Hah!]
CM Koslowitz: two HS in my community – Metro (took 17 years to be built, with my help) and Forest Hills HS (very overcrowded, three sessions).  We built Metro to alleviate overcrowding at Forest Hills HS, it was the last zoned HS. It opened in 2010, supposed to have an enrollment of 250, but it opened with 450.  Now Maspeth is being built so it is being incubated in Metro, and I’ve heard of even more students being taken into Metro, the building is probably at capacity (~1000) with only 2 grades. My concern is that people are now transferring out of Metro to Forest Hills HS.  [Perhaps because of problems like this.] What can we do to alleviate this? It is not functioning the way it needs to.  Grimm: We will talk to the enrollment people.  Koslowitz: How do you explain the 8 “turnaround” schools in Queens? Grimm: The school will get a new name/number, staff and maybe a new administration but the students stay in the building.
CM James: PCBs  - I  need the status of PS11K and PS56K. Also Pre-K overcrowding data across the city and in my districts.  Medgar Evans prep – a great school, shining star, but it has no auditorium and no gym. Are there capital funds for a gym/auditorium for this school? Benjamin Banneker is very overcrowded – it was designed as a small school, but its mission has been destroyed – why are you destroying it? PS 113 has extreme overcrowding, which leads to academic decline; class size is rising to unheard of levels - this affects academic performance. Is this because of teacher attrition? Grimm: At half of our schools’ class size have decreased or increased less than budget cuts. Also, class size increases can be because of “pockets of overcrowding” or because they are desirable schools that parents choose for high class sizes. 
James: PS 117 – there should be NO fifth school in the building. I will fight you on that, see you in court. We cannot have a 2nd charter transfer school in the building. We got funding to improve the school, to add in athletic fields.  Because of that, you are trying to add another school to the building focused on sports. NO. We are already dealing with the abatement of quality of life issues in the building.  Also, D13, 16, 17: demographic shifts in census data – the demographic reductions create under capacity issues, co-locations with charter schools – this is creating segregation! We have a two tiered system in our buildings. This is unacceptable.
CM Chin: District 2 is happy that more seats are being added. District 1 Blue Book shows PS seats have 91% utilization. We don’t agree –the statistics are not based on reality.  For example, the MS56 complex – 3 MS, 1 HS, and now the city wants to put in an elementary charter school.  We have one entrance, lots of high needs students in four schools already there are using this space. The charter school couldn’t find/afford private space so they are co-locating now – this makes NO SENSE.  Is it cost-effective to replicate all of these small charter schools?  The District does not have what it needs for elementary schools, plus the capital funding spent to retrofit the bathrooms, gym use, lunch use, etc.  Grimm: We can make it work. Lots of city schools have k-12 student populations. We look at the Blue Book to identify underutilized schools. Then we walk through and talk to the principal at every school. Chin: You need to talk to them again because the principal and parents at the hearings all oppose this move. Also, smaller class size is a goal we cannot forget!
CM Dromm: Co-locations – how much seat space is lost from co-locations and the necessary additional administrative space? Do you have charts/numbers on this?  Grimm: it is minimal because it is taken into account when determining if all schools will fit into the building. And we are very careful at maintaining the programs offered at existing schools.[NOT!] Dromm: In D24 and D30, DOE is meeting only 2/3 of need in seats– these are the most overcrowded districts.
CM Cabrera:  Which school district has the inability to have large student populations and space? Are the same districts overcrowded every year?  Grimm – it changes, D6 used to be very overcrowded, now it’s mainly D24, 30, and 10. Cabrera: There are no HS in my district – Kingsbridge, Fordham – 106,000 people – are there any plans for a HS? Grimm: No; we see no needs for HS seats in the Bronx, and we usually don’t site HS by district since they are not zoned. Queens and BK are the areas with the greatest HS need.
CM Barron: DOE is a dismal failure.  Co-location has been a disaster. It is ridiculous what the mayor is doing to appease charters. Starting new schools (turnarounds) is another joke – not to improve the school, but to fight the union. This is a part of the mayor’s battle to get rid of experienced teachers. Charter schools have a lottery, but they can get rid of students in the first week. They weed out students they don’t want.  Problem with SCA/council funding is that they have no power of what actually happens in the school/what programs are going into the schools.
Barron: For example, PS53 has many special needs students, they are a community, now you are splitting them up to put a charter school in the building? Why are only some of these special needs students going to the new Spring Creek building?? Why are you separating these special needs students? Also, we have 2300 units of housing coming in this neighborhood, so we need PS/IS seats not HS seats!  The problem is we get the schools built, and then the mayor does a bait and switch. Grimm: the location of the special needs students is not totally accessible; Spring Creek HS is. Some will go and others will go to other locations.  Barron: Why? Are the other locations going to be totally accessible? Make their current building accessible – you have 11 billion dollars!
CM Greenfield: What is the rough cost of each new seat? Grimm: around $100,000 per seat. Greenfield: 3,000 new special ed seats – is this calculated from new anticipates students or is this need from current students? Grimm: we allocate 10% new building seats for special ed, and then its up to D75 to disburse them.  Greenfield: How do you get to 10%? Is that just an estimate?  Grimm: this is a guess. It is an innovation because before, we had no allocation for special ed.
Greenfield: Re: playground to parks program – there is a problem because it is usually the last to be done, so children in the school and the community doesn’t have access to the park even after the main capital construction is completed on a building. This happens for months, from what I’ve seen, such as at PS 48K – the SCA project is completed but the playground has been sitting with no work being done for months.
CM Brewer: Private schools get to lease technology equipment – this saves them money. Why can’t DOE lease it? My principles want to lease. Grimm: This is the expense budget, not capital planning. Brewer: We need newer technology, we need iPads. Why can’t we buy iPads?  Ling Tan: this is up to the chancellor – iPads are not capital eligible. iPads are not in the budget, this is OMB’ s decision. Brewer: What is the total technology budget? Grimm: ~$900 million for this 5yr plan.  Brewer: Are you able to spend the $532? Why are you moving it around?  Grimm: we are moving the $200 out, not because we cannot spend it but because we are separating it for later. Brewer: Can we get a school by school breakdown for the spending? Grimm: Yes. $784 (~80%) is going to equip schools and classrooms. These are the district buildings, so charter schools are not included. They have their own money in addition to these funds.
CM Lander: D15 is overcrowded, unhappy with co-location of the Cobble Hill Success academy charter school. PS 124: the bathrooms are horrible.  Just released a report on class size today and the growth of the number of classes with 30 or more students – 3x as much since 2009, 10x higher in 1st, 2nd  and 3rd grades (over 10,000 now). This is most likely from teacher attrition, but there are space issues as well. [Also changes in DOE policy; see CSM testimony] What assumptions are you using for capacity for different grade levels?  Grimm: we build to a number, that number is the capacity number in a classroom that could be unrelated to what the principal ultimately decides to do though. Liz Bergin of SCA: k-3=20, 4-8 = 28, HS = 30 students per class– in terms of capacity. These numbers are tempered by size (square footage) – 20 -25 ft2 per pupil. Whichever number is less is the capacity we go with. Note that capacity is different from class size – we don’t look at an individual classroom basis, so class size differs from capacity.
CM Reyna: (round 2) What budget amount are you spending for co-location of charter schools? (Charter matching fund) How do you decide where to co-locate? Grimm: this year it is $4 million, last year it was $10 million. The department of space planning actually walks the school. Reyna: The blue book shows an underutilization for our elementary schools in D14, so why are you bringing more and more schools – even the charter schools are underutilized.  Grimm: different charters offer different attractions to our students. We will monitor charters and district schools to see if they are underutilized. Reyna: What is the status of St. Aloysius – it would alleviate PS 81’s overcrowding issues?  Grimm: we will look into this for you.
James: There is a demand for Kindles, but they are not capital eligible. Back to 117 – again, I am stressing that there are 4 schools in there, DO NOT put a 5th school in there that focuses on athletics because I helped raise $2 million to put a new field. We have quality of life issues in the building. We cannot have another school there.  Verizon – why can’t we spend the tech funding – why not re-designate it back into the classroom? Grimm: This is not a major problem, but there is one Verizon and a lot of work to be done. Last year the budget did not address the tech need, but it is what we could afford, as we’ve gotten more experience, so we flat lined the money. We’re spending the money on the technology, just not now. Negotiations are ongoing because of legal conflicts between Verizon and DOE/city. Also, lots of our schools are not in Verizon’s “commercial zone” (BK) so lots of schools don’t have broadband connectivity, or it is extremely slow. Brewer: What is the status of the Beacon HS building?  Grimm: we are on track – a new building by 2015.
CM Jackson: How much of the state building aid has DOE claimed for charter building projects?  Grimm: We don’t. No $ in the state budget for charter school facilities. Jackson: 50,000 seats to meet the capacity – how many additional seats are needed if kindergarten is mandatory? (there are stories of schools discouraging families from kindergarten because of overcrowding) Grimm: ~3-6,000 additional seats Jackson: Technology schools rely on for day to day working, such as SESIS [the special education data system], are they not being used? Grimm: we use capital $ to build SESIS, but now that it is up and running, it uses expense money, so it can be discussed tomorrow. The movement of the tech money does not impact the use of SESIS, but the bandwidth that schools that need could be affected; sometimes it is very slow.
Testimony from UFT, CSM, and other advocates followed. My testimony is below, about the mayor's unfulfilled promises when it comes to school overcrowding.  Read it and weep.

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