New Budget Adds No Capacity

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West Side parents continued to make the case for new school space and additional seats in their stretched-to-capacity district at a Dec. 16 District 3 Community Education Committee meeting. During the meeting, which was focused on capital plan oversight, the Department of Education presented a two-year budget for the district that included no new seats or construction of new capacity. The purpose was to present a preliminary budget and receive community feedback.

Parents, elected officials and parent council members pled for the department to view the crowding situation as dire and budget new seats in the district. Representatives from the School Construction Authority attended the meeting, including Richard Bocchicchio, director of facilities/space planning, as well as a representative from the deputy chancellor’s office.

Department officials agreed that capacity is strained, but said that, in their view, rezoning and new rules regarding out-of-district enrollment would be sufficient to deal with the problem. Other suggestions raised at the meeting were creating a new, more stringent kindergarten lottery, enacting more restrictions on out-of-catchment enrollment and sibling enrollment, and undertaking a dramatic reconfiguring of school zones to relieve the burden on schools like P.S. 87, which is well over 100-percent capacity already.

“We commend CEC 3, which has come up with a very detailed analysis, and we are concerned with capacity. But when you look at District 3 as a whole, we do see some buildings that we determine are underutilized,” said Jeffrey Shear, chief of staff for deputy chancellor Kathleen Grimm, who oversees finance and administration at the department.

However, many disputed the assertion that several buildings in the district were underutilized. They said that space was being shared or had been taken over by charter schools, or included specialized programs such as bilingual education, special education or gifted and talented programs that were incompatible with swelling seats at the kindergarten level.

“There are more children, and there will be more children,” said Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal at the meeting. “We can’t wait until they arrive at the school’s doorsteps, and say, ‘Oh, I guess we calculated wrong.’ We can’t afford to just move the lines, and we can’t move kids from one school to another or have a school relocated to another building.”

Representatives speaking on behalf of State Sen. Tom Duane and Borough President Scott Stringer, who has convened a “war room” to address overcrowding in Manhattan schools, echoed Rosenthal’s concerns that zoning and lottery solutions wouldn’t be enough to combat the district’s baby boom.

Rosenthal said she’d asked the department to count numbers more accurately, and parent council members said they’d asked education officials to walk with them through crowded classrooms and schools, and to produce numbers that projected growth in the district’s future population.

Education officials had agreed to inspect the schools with parents, and were working on pinning down a date as of last week’s meeting.

At the close of the meeting, parents from several neighborhood schools spoke about the conditions and crowding in their facilities.

At press time, another war room meeting was slated for Dec. 22. The timeline is tight, as parents and the department have to come to a consensus by February, when enrollment begins.

“We appreciate working very closely with Office of Portfolio Planning [another DOE office] and with the Deputy Chancellor. We don’t want to presuppose anything, but we do want us and them to recognize the urgency of this situation,” said Noah Gotbaum, chair of the parent council, after the meeting. “And we’re going to have to solve the problem in the long term. We can’t ask parents and kids to sacrifice like this for something that won’t even work for 12 months.”

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