The City Council of New York released their Report on the Fiscal Year 2015 Executive Budget for the Department of Education and School Construction Authority on June 3rd. Within it, the Five-Year Capital Plan for Fiscal 2015-2019 totaling $12.8 billion dollars, sets aside $4.4 billion for the construction of 38,754 new school seats (aka, “capacity”).
In response, Public Advocate, Letitia James and Class Size Matters, a nonprofit, nonpartisan clearinghouse for information on the proven benefits of smaller classes, says the DOE’s calculation won’t solve the problem, not by half. Their June 4th joint letter to Mayor De Blasio and Chancellor Farina, recommends the DOE double the number of seats in the capital plan. They urgently request the public to call their Councilmembers and to ask they sign onto the letter. Brooklyn Heights’ Councilmember, Steve Levin’s office may be reached by calling 718-875-5200. Find your Councilmember HERE.
Ms. James and Class Size Matters’ Executive Director, Leonie Haimson cite Comptroller, Scott Stringer’s 2014 audit, DOE Efforts to Alleviate Overcrowding in School Buildings, which illustrates that at least one-third of NYC public schools are overcrowded and at least a third of elementary schools are at 138% capacity. Class Size Matters’ June 2014 report, Space Crunch in NYC Public Schools, also serves as basis for much of the letter’s argument. The letter continues, “..there is a widespread consensus that the DOE’s formula for estimating school utilization levels in the Blue Book underestimates the actual level of overcrowding and the space needed to provide a sound basic and legal education. Though a working group appointed by the Chancellor made proposals to improve the accuracy of this formula in December, their recommendations still have not been released. Therefore, the City continues to make crucial decisions on co-locations, and now the capital plan based on inaccurate data.” They stress that Mayor De Blasio’s “ambitious” ten-year plan to add 160,000 market-rate housing units, on top of 200,000 affordable units will add to an already growing problem. The Class Size Matters’ fact sheet offers additional details and a complete list of recommendations to the DOE.
As previously reported, overcrowding came home to roost in March when fifty children zoned for P.S. 8 were wait-listed for Kindergarten. The most recent blog post from Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions, “Is Overcrowding Inevitable in Our Area Schools?” highlights that a report included in a recent law-suit meant to halt residential development in Brooklyn Bridge Park has revealed, “according to the DOE’s own numbers, ALL of the elementary schools in District 13 sub-district 2 (which extends from Brooklyn Heights into Clinton Hill) will be at 140% capacity in just 3 years!” The group has been sounding the alarm for more school capacity for years and points to the elephant in the room, “[the] DOE (as far as we know) is doing nothing about a problem that clearly exists in black in white in their own population growth projections!?!”
The City Council is expected to vote on the Capital Plan before the end of June. Thanks to Senator Daniel Squadron, the School Construction Authority (SCA) is now finally required by law to collect population data and incorporate it into the agency’s five-year educational facilities capital plan. But given the DOE’s track record, this reporter has to ask, “Is the DOE following the letter of this law? Has the DOE incorporated real-time birth records and building permit data into this proposed Capital Plan?” Ask your Councilmember. The future and quality of our children’s education may depend on it.