BY COUNCILMEMBER JULISSA FERRERAS
Long before I was elected to office, I was the Beacon Program director at P.S. 19 in Corona, known at the time as the most overcrowded school in the country. My years of work engaging our neighborhood children helped me understand the effect of school building conditions on their academic performance.
Because their classrooms were overcrowded, the students received less attention to their individual learning needs and more distraction readily intruded upon their focus. I’ve since learned that overcrowded schools are only part of a bigger problem. Chronic underfunding of our school buildings has left too many of our children learning in less than adequate environments.
Cutbacks in school facilities funding over the years have led to widespread school overcrowding and crumbling schools across aging school buildings in many of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. More schools can relieve the overcrowding, but appropriate funding for their operation and maintenance is necessary to keep them all in good, working order. Our children deserve to learn under the best possible conditions in the greatest city in the world.
I’m proud to say I’ve launched an Education Task Force with the help of Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the School Construction Authority and our community partners to not only improve communication between our schools and parents, but also advocate for better funding of our school facilities and develop long-term solutions.
New York City spends a smaller percentage of its total education budget on building maintenance and operations than most other large school districts in the country, and the percentage of the city’s education budget dedicated to facilities keeps shrinking by millions of dollars, according to a report published in early May by 32BJ SEIU. The union represents 5,000 public school cleaners and handypersons.
According to that report, there are thousands of open building code violations in hundreds of school buildings across the city. As these violations are repaired, the number of building code violations changes, but there seems to be a constant and exorbitant number of them left unaddressed. I worry that in overcrowded schools, the large student populations place an overwhelming demand on dwindling resources and supplies, exacerbating school conditions at a rapid pace.
When toilets don’t work or the heat doesn’t stay on, we place an undue burden on our children and it falls disproportionately on poorer neighborhoods. These are basic things that any one of us would take care of in the privacy of our own home, and the city needs to give the same priority to these issues at our children’s schools. This should increase the urgency of our endeavor.
The City of New York and the Department of Education must allocate sufficient funding to address these problems in our school buildings. School cleaners and handypersons need the right resources and manpower to keep school buildings operating. And just as years of advocacy by parents, students and community organizations got the city to cut the timeline in half to remove toxic PCBs from public school lights, we must focus as a community on the improvement of our children’s school buildings and give them the learning environment they deserve.
Councilmember Julissa Ferreras represents the 21st Council District encompassing Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights. She is the Chair of the Women’s Issues Committee and is a member of the Committees on Parks and Recreation, Civil Rights, Consumer Affairs, Economic Development, Finance and Health.
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