Tuesday, December 18, 2018

DOE and SCA going backwards not forwards in terms of rational school planning

Yesterday's City Council hearings on the capital plan reveals how the NYC remains stubbornly resistant when it comes to expeditious, transparent school planning. 

As explained in my testimony and the report we released yesterday on preK and school overcrowding, 50,000 seats of the 57,000 seats  in the new proposed five-year plan won’t be finished until 2024 or after, long after the Mayor has left office.

from the City Council briefing paper
The DOE disputed this finding to the Daily News: "City Education Department Doug Cohen said the new seats would be done sooner than Haimson projected, although he did not give a concerete time line for their completion."

Yet these figures were confirmed by the Independent Budget Office and the City Council - see the chart above - and neither Lorraine Grillo, President of the School Construction Authority nor Deputy Chancellor Karin Goldmark disputed them when they were asked about this undue delay by Education Chair Mark Treyger at the hearings.

Only 11,000 seats will have been built over the lifetime of the current five-year plan, with 23,000  folded over into the next plan.  Meanwhile our schools are becoming
more overcrowded due to pre-K expansion and rampant development. Already more than 575,000 students suffer in overcrowded schools.

When Council Members Dromm and Treyger asked School Construction Authority President Lorraine Grillo why thousands of seats are going to be unfunded in severely overcrowded districts like District 10 (-1,172), District 13 (-1,636),  District 15 (-3.023), District 20 (-2630) and District 24 (-3961), especially as compared to the last identified DOE needs assessment released in Nov. 2017, she couldn’t explain why. 

First she claimed she had been so successful siting schools in those districts that they didn’t really need many more seats, then she said it’s too hard to find good sites for schools in these areas, and then she said we just have to focus on creating seats in the rest of the city.

The DOE also basically eliminated the class size reduction section of the current plan that was funded at $490M but over five years went mostly unspent, revealing they never intend to lower class size in the first place. According to the Council briefing paper,The Council was informed that as of Spring 2018 SCA hoped to identify additional projects but none were.  In addition there is no explanation as to how the projects identified will reduce class size.”

There is no identified needs assessment for new seats in the capital plan by the DOE/SCA for the first time since at least 2011.  While the Council has been begging for a more transparent and accurate needs assessment, the DOE decided to take that figure out of the plan altogether.  When asked why, Lorraine Grillo couldn’t explain why, and then said it was all up on the SCA website, [which is untrue.]

CM Dromm said he was very disturbed about the lack of identified needs assessment and the severe cuts to District 24.  CM Treyger said that he saw no reason that the timeline to build schools has to be so painfully slow and that the Amazon deal showed that the city could act faster to encourage economic development; also when it comes to creating new housing  in the various re-zonings happening throughout the city.

CM Brad Lander pointed out that the planning process is dysfunctional.  When a large-scale development is proposed and then approved, too often more schools may be promised on paper, but  aren’t really incorporated  into the overall plan and if and when they are built, this happens years later.  Often, this occurs long after the rest of the development is complete and when  school overcrowding is already at a crisis level and sites are hard to find.  Instead, schools should be included as part of the development’s planning, design and construction at the outset.  He said he hopes this will happen with the Gowanus rezoning happening in his district.

When he asked about the promised installation of air conditioning, and the fact that the DOE’s last progress report to the Council on this had contained inaccuracies, Deputy Chancellor Karin Goldmark insisted that teachers can teach and students can learn no matter how warm the room. (Lots of research shows this is just untrue.)

My testimony is here. When I spoke extemporaneously I said that all this new development could and should be used by the city officials as a way to help them get schools built quickly, yet they fail to take advantage of it. I despair that in the year 2025 when a new five-year plan is introduced, the same problems will be in evidence yet even more severe. There will be yet another Mayor who makes campaign promises to solve the problems of school overcrowding but when he is elected sells his soul to developers.

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