It’s time for the city and Extell to take responsibility
As is well known, the entirety of Community School District 3—stretching from Lincoln Center to Central Harlem—faces a serious schools overcrowding crisis. In 2010, District 3 had two of the top 10 most overcrowded school zones in the city, with eight of its nine public elementary schools on the Upper West Side operating at or above capacity. While the crisis is projected to severely impact every one of the District’s 32 elementary and middle schools within the next 24 months, the epicenter of the problem lies between the West 60s and 80s, just north of the planned Riverside Center project.
This is not a coincidence. For years, Extell and other developers have marketed our public schools as an amenity, pouring kids into our schools up and down District 3, without taking any responsibility for the overflow or providing a single new seat. A direct result of this development—most prominently including Extell’s Riverside South project—has been severe overcrowding throughout our district.
Sadly, the developers’ partners in driving this overcrowding have been the New York City Department of Education and its Schools Construction Authority. The DOE and the SCA have been unable or unwilling to recognize simple demographics for years, consistently overstating capacity and underestimating demand for our schools in an effort to ignore the problem. In 2006, they failed to take up the option for a developer-provided new school site at Riverside South, just as the numbers were beginning to take off. In 2008 they recommended increasing the size of the P.S. 87 district for the 2010/2011 school year; the next year, that district became the most overcrowded school zone in the city. And last year—while steadfastly refusing to recognize any overcrowding in D3 in every planning document and public statement—they were forced to open the new elementary school P.S. 452 at the 11th hour after the parents’ demographic projections and protests were proven out by enrollment numbers. But rather than invest any dollars in new construction, the DOE opened P.S. 452 in an already overcrowded M.S. 44 building on West 77th Street, mortgaging the District’s sorely needed middle-school seats.
During these overcrowding discussions, and our exposé of massive future overcrowding, the DOE constantly cited the safety valve of a large new school to be built by Extell as part of Riverside Center. But only a few short months later we are left to ask, “Where is that school?” and, as important, “Who is going to pay for it?”
Unfortunately, instead of pushing for the needs of the community and demanding that the developer return some of the huge benefit it has received from our district’s public schools, the DOE and the city have sided with the developer and left our kids and community out in the cold. The DOE’s Memorandum of Understanding with the developer for a 75,000-square-foot school will at best only accommodate the students living within the new Riverside Center project, and won’t begin to address the area’s larger overcrowding issues. Worse, the DOE/Extell MOU only requires Extell to pay for the new school’s walls and floors, leaving the rest of us to foot the bill for what will essentially be a private school for the developer.
Is this fair? Is this representative of want the community wants? And just whose needs are the DOE and the city representing in this process when they propose to give away hundreds of millions in land use benefits to the developer and then not only fail to demand fair school investment in return, but in fact give the developer additional taxpayer benefits in the form of a new school?
It’s time to stop kicking the education can down the road. It’s time to stop saying we prioritize education, and then force parents and the community to demand even the most basic accommodations by the city, the DOE and the development community for our kids.
Community District Education Council 3 joins Community Board 7, Borough President Stringer, State Senator Tom Duane, Council Member Gale Brewer and others in demanding that the city and developer begin to do their part to meet our Community’s education needs:
First: Building the entire 150,000-square-foot school our community needs must be a requirement for any approval of this project.
Second: The school must be among the first buildings built in the project.
Third: The school must be fully paid for by the developer.
We urge the City Planning Commission, and Council Member Brewer’s colleagues in the City Council, to demand these changes as well. And to leave no doubt that they, as we, are willing to stand up for our children and our community.
Noah E. Gotbaum is president of Community District Education Council 3.
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