Community Board 7’s education committee debates the best use of school resources on the UWS
By Adam Janos
Community Board 7’s Youth, Education & Libraries Committee met Thursday night to discuss a variety of issues, including cuts to after school and child care programs in the mayor’s initial budget, and rumors regarding the future of P.S. 199 and P.S. 191.
The preliminary Fiscal Year 2014 mayoral budget puts “more than 47,000 children [citywide] at risk of losing their child care and after-school program,” according to a statement drafted by the Campaign for Children. Community Board 7 estimates that the cuts would affect about 500 children in the Upper West Side districts.
Last year, preliminary budget cuts to after school and child care funding were largely restored. “We write this letter every year, and they restore funds every year,” said Marisa Maack, chairperson of the committee. Maack argued, however, that with funding always so up-in-the-air until the last minute, parents end up seeking out more stable programs.
Resulting attrition rates destroy program credibility, and Maack believes the system would operate more smoothly if funding were baselined in the budget every year.
Board member Helen Rosenthal agreed, though noted that the Community Board had only put after school funding seventh and child care funding fifteenth in the community’s budget priorities. “It’s something we should think about next year,” said Rosenthal. A resolution to request baseline funding and restore cuts was approved 7-0 in the committee.
The committee also discussed the Beacon Building Working Group, which was formed in March to deal with future plans for what will be a vacant space when the Beacon School relocates. Beacon High School will be moving from their current location on West 61st Street to a new spot on West 44th Street in the autumn of 2015. Mark Diller, who chairs the Beacon Building Working Group, addressed concerns in the community that the organization would simply serve as a rubber stamp to approve Beacon as an interim space for P.S. 199 (270 W. 70th St.) or P.S. 191 (210 W. 61st St.), both sites that Department Of Education (DOE) has shown interest in reconstructing.
Speculation about Beacon’s future use, Diller and Maack argued, conflates Beacon’s move with the DOE’s Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI), which were recently sent to developers to see if they could get interest in leasing the land where P.S. 199 and P.S. 191 currently sit. Selected developers would be granted a 99-year lease, then allowed to build on the city land. In turn, they’d have to devote the bottom floors of their development to new, improved school space. By leasing out these air rights, the city would save the cost of construction that they would otherwise have to invest to make new school buildings themselves. The High School of Art and Design relocated this past fall under such a agreement.
By starting the Beacon Building Working Group at the same time the P.S. 191 and 199 requests came to light, some residents are worried that the writing is on the wall: their elementary schools will be reconstructed, and as the schools are rebuilt (their argument goes), the pupils will be placed for the interim into the allegedly ill-suited Beacon School.
The Committee insists that the two items have been artificially pulled together, that no such plan exists, and that they are still very early in the process with both the Beacon building’s new use and the RFEIs for the elementary schools.
Department of Education Chancellor D“I’m generally not in support of selling off city land,” said Maack.”It’s a loss for the community, and a loss for the city. I’d rather the city invest into these school themselves.”
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