Friday, December 14, 2018

Parents ask, where are the schools? Please send a message to the new Charter Revision Commission improve school planning now!

NYC does a rotten job of school planning.  The Mayor has encouraged rampant development to occur throughout the five boroughs with little or no forethought as to where all the additional children living in these buildings will attend school.  This has led to over 570,000 students attending overcrowded schools, according to the DOE's own data.    
Now the city and the state intend to give Amazon $3 billion in tax incentives while handing over a large DOE building for their new headquarters in Long Island City, which the community had been urging the city to instead be converted into schools -- especially as their only elementary school is already bursting at the seams.  

Yes, Amazon agreed to take over the cost to build one new school -- but that school had already been promised by the city, and the site is now undetermined, since the land it was supposed to be built on is also to be given to Amazon for its offices.   I wrote an oped on this issue along with Sabina Omerhodzic in Gotham Gazette last month, showing how this deal is symptomatic of how the education of our kids too often comes last in the city's estimation.  

At a town hall meeting in Queens with the Mayor and Chancellor, Sabina pointed out that for many years, activists have had a plan for the large DOE building that is now used for offices to be used for integrated elementary, middle and high schools that would include kids both from Queensbridge public housing, the largest housing project in the city,  and the rapidly developing, Long Island City section of the district.  Neighborhood activists wanted the large DOE building to also incorporate a job training and community center as well.  But the Mayor responded to Sabina's question by refusing to take the DOE building out of the deal  (See the video here , at about 1 hour, 11 minutes in).

Please send a message now to the new City Charter Revision Commission, 
urging them to improve the school planning process, so that these Amazon-like deals that ignore the need for schools don't happen in the future -- and ensure that enough new school space is built along with new development and not years after, contributing to even worse overcrowding. CECs should be involved in the development  process along with Community Boards, and new schools should be required wherever they are already over-utilized or likely to become so in the future.

Right before Sabina spoke up, another parent named Anna Maria Leon spoke in Spanish about the need for DOE to reduce class size without making schools reduce their budget (at 46 minutes in).  (Right now the so-called Fair Student funding system is tied to enrollment, so that when principals try to keep class sizes low, they have to sacrifice needed funding. ) While translating, Carranza left out the part about class size but instead said her comment was about school overcrowding , which is a related but different issue.  

De Blasio responded  that overcrowding was a "central concern" that he hears all over the city and claimed he is putting billions of dollars into new school space, eliminating trailers, and increasing boosting the number of schools that receive 100% of the Fair Student Funding formula.  He did not address the issue of class size. He called on Lorraine Grillo in from the School Construction Authority, who announced 20,000 new seats will be created for Queens in the new proposed 2020-2024 five-year capital plan.  What she didn't reveal is how only a small fraction of that number --about 7,700 seats -- will be completed during those five years. 

Immediately following, (at 53 minutes in), Deb Alexander of CEC 30 talked about how parents don't feel they are included in DOE decision-making.  Her CEC and other CECs pass resolutions with no response whatsoever from the DOE.  Another example, she said, of how parents are left out is that no CEC member was invited to be part of the city's advisory commission on the Amazon project.  De Blasio said they will create a new process so that the DOE responds in some way to CEC resolutions (after five years of failing to do so!) and will now appoint a CEC member to that commission.

At 59 minutes in, Nancy Northrup, a Queens parent and former President of the Chancellor's Parent Advisory Counsel,  talked about need for more high school seats for Queens. In response, Carranza mentioned he has new demographic information about enrollment trends, he would share.

He added that he's worked in five different states and in all of them, in a great disservice was done to high school students because of the small schools movement. You can't have a comprehensive high school experience in a small school, he said. He revealed he will be considering more school mergers in future and include CECs in that conversation.  

Later, in response to another comment, Carranza said that if and when the DOE receives the $1.3 billion they're owed from the state, as a result of the CFE lawsuit, they will be able to add more air conditioners, sports teams and extra-curricular activities, with no mention of the need to reduce class size -- which was the main issue in the CFE case.  The Mayor's priority for these funds, as is well-known, will be to use them to further expand 3K. 

All in all, the comments of the Mayor and Chancellor at this Town Hall meeting reveal how little they recognize the need for aggressive action on school overcrowding and class size.  

Again, please send a message now to the new City Charter Revision Commission, urging them to  ensure that sufficient new schools are built along with housing and not years later. CECs should be involved in the advisory process, and new schools should be required where ever they are already overcrowded or likely to become so in the future.  

A letter we sent the Commission late last month about this is below, signed onto by elected officials and many parent leaders from all over the city.  Thanks!

Dear members of the Charter Revision Commission:

Many education advocates, parents, community leaders and local elected officials realize that in NYC, the school planning and siting process has long been broken. With more than half a million students crammed into overcrowded schools, the problem is likely to get worse as the city’s population is growing fast, there is a boom in residential construction, and school capacity is falling further behind.

In March 2018, the New York City Council released a report, Planning to Learn: The School Building Challenge, which documented existing overcrowding in New York City public schools and the challenges related to planning and siting new schools. Before that, Class Size Matters released two reports, Space Crunch and Lost Seats: the Untold Story, which identified many of the same problems.

One of the challenges identified in these reports is how the methodology used by the City Planning Commission to project the need for new schools via the process outlined in the City Environmental Quality Review ("CEQR") Technical Manual is inherently flawed in the following ways:

The CEQR process relies on a formula called the “Public school ratio” to project the potential impact of new residential developments on schools.  Yet the formula is rarely updated, and until this fall was based upon Census data more than twenty years old.  The formula still excludes any of the 3K students that the Mayor plans to add to our public schools, and doesn’t differentiate the potential impacts on schools by the type of residential units to be built, including the number of bedrooms in these units.  Nor does it differentiate the impact by school zones or the smaller sub-districts within large Community School Districts, which may be experiencing very different levels of overcrowding

The housing start data is also unreliable, especially the ten-year data, which estimates only a tiny number of new units to be built after the first five years.  For example, the housing start data used to develop the current five-year capital plan projected not a single new housing unit to be built in Brooklyn between 2020-2024.  The new housing starts data used for the new five-year capital plan reports more than 41,500 additional units will be built in ten school districts between 2018 and 2024, but the estimate drops to zero between 2025 and 2027. 

Moreover, the CEQR process only requires the building of a new school where the proposed project will increase projected school overcrowding by more than five percent by means of this formula – regardless of whether the schools in the area are already overcrowded.    And only Community Boards are consulted in the advisory process to provide input on the likely impact of these projects, and not Community Education Councils which, in some cases, may be more closely aware of constraints involving school capacity in the particular neighborhoods in which they are proposed.

That is why we propose the following revisions to the City Charter to improve the process of school planning and to address the problem of overcrowding more efficiently:  

-       - The CEQR methodology and process should be regularly reviewed and updated at least bi-annually, based upon the latest housing, Census and American Community Survey data. 

-       - The projected impact on schools should be analyzed on both a five and a ten-year framework, with ten-year estimates based on more realistic current trends, rather than arbitrarily dropping to zero or near zero after five or six years.

-       - The expected impact on enrollment should include the need to provide school seats for 3K and preK students and take account of the expected growth of charter school students currently co-located in public school buildings.

-       - The CEQR formula should be differentiated according to school attendance zones, as well as Community Board districts and the neighborhood-based sub-districts of Community school districts;

-       - Every new large-scale project should require sufficient school seats to be built to address expected population growth and to bring schools to less than 100% utilization, wherever they are already overcrowded or likely to become so as a result of new housing planned and/or current enrollment trends

-       - Finally, the views of Community Education Councils and Citywide Councils should be solicited along with Community Boards on the expected impact on schools and mitigation strategies for projects proposed for their respective districts.

Yours sincerely,

Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters
Robert Jackson, NYS Senator Elect, 31st District
Brad Lander, NYC Councilmember, Council District 39
Shino Tanikawa, co-Chair, Educational Council Consortium*
Isaac Carmignani, member of the Panel for Educational Policy
Naila Rosario, President, NYC Kids PAC
Renee Kinsella on behalf of Manhattan Community Board 5
Jeannine Kiely, Chair, Schools and Education Committee, Manhattan Community Board 2
Johanna Garcia, President, Community Education Council District 6
Farah Despeignes, President, Community Education Council District 8
Ayanna Behin, President, Community Education Council District 13
Maria Farley, President, Community Education Council District 14
Laurie Windsor, 1st Vice President, Community Board 11 Brooklyn*
Deborah Alexander, co-President, Community Education Council District 30
Valarie Lamour, co-President, Community Education Council District 30
Anna Lembersky, President, Community Education Council District 21
Marvin Shelton, President, Community Education Council District 10*
Dr. Eduardo Hernandez, BP appointee, 1st Vice President, Community Education Council District 8
Victoria Frye, member, Community Education Council District 6
Paul Hovitz, co-chair, Youth and Education Committee, Manhattan Community Board 1*
Hilda Martinez, member, Community Education Council District 6
Tricia Joyce, co-chair, Youth and Education Committee, Manhattan Community Board 1*
Peter Patch, Youth, Education and Libraries Committee Co-Chair, Manhattan Community Board 8
Mirian Lopez, Vice President, Community Education Council District 14
Luis Camilo, Recording Secretary, Community Education Council 6
Kathy Park Price, co-VP, Community Education Council District 15
Eric Goldberg, member, Community Education Council District 2
Francisco Santiago, Community Education Council District 6
Margaret Kelley, Chair, Education Committee, Cobble Hill Association
Noah E. Gotbaum, Citywide Council on Special Education, ECC Steering Committee.
Angela Garces, member, Community Education Council District 6
Carmen Figueroa, member, Community Education Council District 7
 (list in formation)

*Affiliation for identification purposes only

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