By Dustin Brown
An angry contingent of parents in the borough's most crowded district is lashing out against the mayor's overhaul of the city schools, claiming they have been shut out of the process.
Parents and community leaders have planned a rally for 6 p.m. Thursday outside School District 24's offices at 80-00 Cooper Ave. to protest the movement of the district office to Long Island City, changes in special education and cuts to personnel – steps they contend will limit their involvement in the schools.
“We want the mayor and the chancellor to hear our voices, how unhappy the parents are about all these changes, about losing our district office,” said Dorie Figliola, who chairs the youth committee for Community Board 5. “We know less now than we ever did.”
A representative of the city Department of Education stressed that the changes are designed to give parents even more opportunity to participate in their children's education.
“There's this misconception that parents are being left out of the process,” said Kevin Ortiz, an Education Department spokesman. “That simply isn't the case.”
Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's restructuring of the city school system, District 24 – which covers Glendale, Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village, Corona and Elmhurst – will join two other districts as part of Region 4, one of 10 new areas replacing the 32 existing districts. District 24's office is slated to close in July, when the new regional office at 28-11 Queens Plaza North opens.
The restructuring comes as the district continues to grapple with severe overcrowding.
Figures released by the borough president's office show the district is short 3,803 seats, putting it at 111 percent of capacity – well above the rest of Queens, where District 29 in Rosedale is a distant second at 104 percent.
Although the district has come a long way from five years ago when it was running at 135 percent of capacity, the city revealed last month that four school construction projects that would bring approximately 2,000 additional seats into the district in upcoming years would be deferred or eliminated.
Even though the school construction cuts were outlined in a fiscal brief released in mid-April by the city's Independent Budget Office, two weeks later the news still had not been relayed to August Saccoccio, the district's deputy superintendent.
“We are not a part of the decisions that are being made,” Saccoccio said in a May 1 phone interview. “They're being made by central – and that's the way it is. Decisions are being made by central and funneling down to us.”
Ortiz responded that district officials “are being informed and kept apprised of decisions that are being made.”
Ortiz also pointed to four school construction projects opening in District 24 by September – additions at IS 5, 61 and 77 and a new school, PS 239 – which would create 2,600 new seats.
Still, projections released by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall show the student population in District 24 is expected to rise by 6,000 over the next eight years.
“The issue will obviously be revisited when plans for the new capital plan are drawn up,” Ortiz said.
But parents' biggest concern is whether they will still have a say in their children's education.
“We're looking for answers,” said Sal Scaturro of Glendale, who chairs a special education parents panel for the district. “They're constantly saying – Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg – that this is going to be more involvement. What we're seeing, it's going to be less parent involvement.”
Scaturro cited the loss of special education supervisors in the schools, whom he described as liaisons for parents negotiating the educational system.
Ortiz said supervisors would stay on but spend half their day in the classrooms as instructors. Meanwhile, cuts in paraprofessionals and school aides would not affect special education programs, Ortiz said.
Parents say they are also stung by the impending closure of their district office, a place they said they could rely upon to get reliable assistance.
“Now where are we going to go? The 59th Street Bridge? We're not going to travel there,” Figliola said.
Ortiz said parents can voice their concerns at any of the 13 regional offices, which will have evening and weekend hours, as well as at individual schools.
“If parents have an issue,” Ortiz said, “there is a parent coordinator that will be in place at every school to address parent issues and concerns.”
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.