5-Year School Construction Plan Called Inadequate Predict Overcrowded Queens School System Will Worsen In 2007

Local elected officials predict that Queens’ currently crowded public school system will be even more overcrowded after the City’s proposed 36,000-seat expansion is completed in 2004.
Blasting the board of Education’s proposed five-year, $4.4 billion school seat expansion program for Queens as inadequate, Borough President Claire Shulman declared that it failed to meet the Borough’s current shortage of 30,000 seats. Worse still, she charged that, based on the rapid pace of student-growth vs. slow municipal construction, the school space shortage will balloon to 56,000, by the year 2007.
Highlighting the current education problem, she said, are classes being held in closets, school basements, and hallways. Just as bad, she said, are reports of 50 kindergarten students crammed into one classroom . . . more than double the acceptable size.
"My question is," said Shulman, "What is the point of passing a plan which we know from the start will not meet our needs?"
When the State Construction Authority (SCA) announced last September that well over 6,000 new classroom seats were scheduled to be made available in eleven Queens schools, during this year, Shulman called the report "welcome but inadequate."
This year’s Board of Education analysis of Queens’ seven-school districts shows that they are presently operating at an average 107 percent of capacity, but by 2007, there will be 138 local students for every 100 classroom seats . . . a 29 percent increase.
Board of Education spokesman J.D. LaRock said that the City had recognized Queens’ need for additional seating by assigning 40 percent of its $11 billion budget. He also pointed out that the City’s construction program was based on three factors: A limited funding generated from City, state and federal sources. Secondly, how quickly the State Construction Authority could build the new schools or expand existing facilities, and finally, obtaining accurate estimates where future student growth will take place.
City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone, whose district has the most overcrowded elementary and middle schools in Queens, said that additional funding could be obtained, "by making sure that we get our fair share of educational funds from the State." Last month, he also proposed using part of the money obtained form the tobacco settlement to fund school repairs and construction.
A major key to the Board of education’s ability to properly educate Queens youngsters, said LaRock, is its current campaign to initiate funding, staff and facilities to include full-time classroom studies during the summer months. If the plan goes into full operation, there may be no ten-week summer vacation, because the elementary, middle and high school calendars will include a 12-month, year-round schedule. Lacking adequate details, some parent and teacher groups have expressed initial reservations.
According to a report released by Public Advocate Mark Green last September, among the City’s worse overcrowding for K-3 students were S.D. 24 (Glendale, Ridgewood, Maspeth), S.D. 27 (Ozone Park), and S.D. 29 (Rosedale). At least 30 students were crammed into each classroom in these schools, he said.
"It is unacceptable," said Green, "that young people throughout the City are bearing the brunt of overcrowded classrooms.
The shortage of classroom seats is not a new phenomenon. Last September, as Queens’ 274,000 students dutifully trooped back into their classes, The Queens Courier, reported the following overcrowded elementary classroom conditions:
• S.D. 29 has the city’s largest first grade classroom population.
• S.D. 27 has the city’s largest second grade student body, along with the second largest third grade size.
• S.D. 24 has the City’s largest fourth grade, and third largest kindergarten student bodies.
• S.D. 25 has the largest number of fifth graders, and the second largest sixth grader population in the City.
Councilwoman Julia Harrison, whose S.D. 25 classrooms are operating at 98 percent of capacity, but are expected to soar to 116 percent by 2007, said, "A classroom door is no place for the Board of Education to hang an SRO sign."

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