|Council Members Stephen Levin and Danny Dromm|
Yesterday, Class Size Matters hosted a press conference on the steps of City Hall about the need to address school overcrowding by expanding the capital plan and appoint a Commission to improve school planning and the efficiency of school siting.
Speakers included NYC Council Member Danny Dromm, Chair of the Education committee, David Greenfield, chair of the Land Use Committee, and Council Members Mark Levine, Inez Barron, and Stephen Levin, along with many parent leaders.
I introduced the press conference by releasing a letter
from the Public Advocate to the Mayor and the Chancellor, co-signed by 22 Council Members and many parent leaders, urging them to double the seats in the capital plan and appoint a Commission to make recommendations on how school planning and siting could be improved.
Then I pointed out that when the Mayor ran for office he promised that he would support a more ambitious capital plan that would provide the space necessary to eliminate overcrowding and allow for smaller classes. He also pledged to reform the Blue Book formula so that it more accurately reflected overcrowding and incorporated the need for smaller classes. Yet the opposite has happened; the city cut $5B for schools compared to the last ten year capital plan under Bloomberg, and $2B compared to the preliminary ten year plan released just a few months ago.
This is despite the fact that about half a million students are enrolled in extremely overcrowded schools and the problem is getting worse. NYC is the fastest growing large city in the country, according to recent Census data, and yet the city has no realistic proposal to address the exploding student population. The current school construction capital plan will meet less than half the need, given DOE’s own enrollment projections and utilization figures.
Moreover, the mayor has proposed the creation of 160,000 market rate housing units and 200,000 affordable units, without any plan for where the additional students will attend school. The Blue Book working group also came up with recommendations to improve the accuracy of the school overcrowding formula in December that have yet to be released.
The result of this dysfunctional lack of planning is that hundreds of schools have lost their cluster rooms; thousands of students are assigned to lunch as early as 10 a.m., and/or have no access to the gym. Many special needs students are forced to receive their services in hallways and/or closets rather than in dedicated spaces, and class sizes in the early grades have reached a 15-year high.
Then Council Member Danny Dromm talked about damaging impact of overcrowding at the school in Queens where he once taught, with rampant overcrowding and class sizes as high as 38: “The problem in my school we had no place to put the students. …One day they opened the maintenance closet, took out the rakes and shovels and turned it into a speech classroom, without windows, so small you could barely get through the door, it was unbelievable to see that happen. This is happening in many schools throughout the city… With the expansion of affordable housing, the situation is only going to become worse with the influx of new students.”
Council Member Stephen Levin spoke of the need for responsible planning with huge development occurring in downtown Brooklyn, with residential high rises springing up rapidly: “What we’re seeing in downtown Brooklyn and in a lot of neighborhoods in NYC is that our schools will continue to be overtaxed. There has not been appropriate planning. We are always playing catch up, we’re building well after the impact has already been felt… We need to recognize that when we’re seeing these housing starts, we need to be pro-active, we need to put the money up front, and ensure the schools are ready when the housing comes online and not the other way around.”
CM Mark Levine pointed out how the DOE's Blue Book formula wrongly identifies many of the schools in his area of Washington Heights and West Harlem as underutilized, “where schools bear the scars of decades of overcrowding. They have lost their computer rooms, their music rooms, have no gyms or cafeterias, because it’s all been reclaimed for classroom space. They have trailers comically referred to temporary structures even though they’ve been in place for a decade or more. For years the DOE has accounted for capacity by claiming these schools are not overcrowded, but only because we’ve lost all the space needed for a truly enriching education … There is virtually no construction planned in Northern Manhattan and they are going to leave in place a status quo that is unacceptable. We are here to say, we need to correct the wrongs of the previous era and build in upper Manhattan and give our kids the space they need.”
Then CM David Greenfield spoke as the chair of the Land Use Committee: “We approve all zoning changes; when you you’re submitting a development project, there has to be coordination with the DOE and the Mayor’s office to make sure that the resources are there for schools for kids. You can squeeze another person on a bus or in a park, but squeezing an extra child in a classroom has a lifelong impact on many of these children, and it is not fair. We need to think about development holistically; not just about housing, or quality jobs; it’s also about infrastructure, and #1 in infrastructure has to be school seats for our children. “
CM Inez Barron spoke as a former principal and teacher: “I spent 18 years as teacher, and 18 years as an administrator. One year I had 34 students, which was very challenging. The capital plan is not adequate of allocation for construction of new school buildings. In the Mayor’s plan for expanding housing in East NY, he hasn’t included even one new school.”
Fe Florimon, chair of the CB12 Youth and Education Committee in Washington Heights and a member of the Community Education Council in District 6: “We don’t need 38 kids in a classroom. A budget of $25B [the city’s education budget] should be sufficient to reduce class size; this needs to be a top priority but we’re continuing the same pattern. As much as I love you and voted for you, I beg you, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Farina, to pay close attention to this matter, we need small classes, it’s for our kids.”
Eduardo Hernandez of CEC 8 in the Bronx spoke about how it has been thirty years since District 8 got a new school: “Finally we’re getting a new school, even if it's right near a highway. School construction has been neglected for many years; also co-locations which take away classrooms have exacerbated this problem. Hopefully this mayor will take notice and finally do the right thing.”
Mario Aguila VP of the CEC in District 14 described how the high schools were hugely overcrowded, with up to forty students in a classroom.
CSM press conference 6.18.15 Mario Aguila, VP, CEC 14 in Brooklyn
from Class Size Matters
Kristin Gorman reported that there had been a Kindergarten waiting list of 70 children at her zoned school in Queens. The waiting list was finally brought down when the preK program was eliminated, but “this is only a band-aid. Why is a Democratic mayor, who many of us voted for, removing funds from education? I’m concerned about my children’s future.”
Wendy Chapman, co-founder of the organization Build Schools Now, dedicated to expanding school seats in the rapidly growing neighborhood of Tribeca, discussed the fact that even when funding is allotted for a school, the DOE often seems incapable of finding a site: “There has been a school for this neighborhood in the capital budget for over a year; we’ve identified 11 possible sites for the school but it’s still not sited. It’s very personal for us, every building that goes up just means more pressure that’s coming.”
Zakiyah Ansari of AQE spoke about how the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit was brought in part to address the need to reducing class size “Our children would learn better, our teachers will be able to teach better if only they had smaller classes.“
MC Sweeney, a parent at PS 196 in Queens, decried the fact that the DOE refuses to use real population data to properly plan for schools, and the result has been growing Kindergarten waiting lists, the loss of art rooms, and special needs students receiving their services in hallways and closets. She said that parents are going to demand the doubling of seats in the capital plan to be voted on at the PEP meeting on June 23.