Parents Refuse to Give Up On Relocation of P.S. 207

By Michèle De Meglio

The sign said it all – “Cut P.S. 207 funds? ‘Fugheddaboudit!’” Such was the message relayed by parents on a piece of colorful cardboard at an education town hall hosted by State Senator Marty Golden. However, funding to relocate P.S. 207 to a recently-closed Catholic school has not been cut. The money was never available. That’s because Governor George Pataki has refused to comply with the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) ruling, which ordered the state to send an extra $5.6 billion in operating funds over the next four years and $9.2 billion over the next five years for capital projects to the city’s “underfunded” schools. Without this money, parents face the grim reality that the city will ditch its plan to move P.S. 207 from 4011 Fillmore Avenue to the former home of St. Thomas Aquinas School, 1501 Hendrickson Street, and expand it to offer grades kindergarten to eight. Many P.S. 207 fifth-graders were counting on the school to begin a sixth grade class in September. Since that might not happen, they are left wondering what school they will be attending in the fall. To alleviate confusion, the city Department of Education (DOE) has created a contingency plan if the project is dropped on April 1. Actually, there are two separate contingency plans. If the project is not dropped but, instead, delayed, P.S. 207 would be expected to open in its new building in September 2007. In such an instance, P.S. 207 would use five classrooms in its current building for a sixth grade class during the 2006-2007 school year, explained District 22 Community Superintendent Marianne Ferrara. “We wouldn’t open a sixth grade [at P.S. 207] if it isn’t definite that we have a St. Thomas,” said Ferrara. The other contingency plan was created if the P.S. 207 project is officially abandoned by the city. If this is the case, fifth-graders who banked on starting the sixth grade at P.S. 207 this September will be given a chance to reapply to other middle schools. Those in gifted education may apply to other magnet or CIG programs. “No child will be penalized if this project does not go forward,” Ferrara said. At the standing-room-only town hall, parents seemed unready to consider contingency plans – they still want P.S. 207 to open at St. Thomas this September. They were even more livid at the knowledge that they were “guaranteed” a new school when the money to fund the project was unavailable. “We were guaranteed that that money was going to be here for our kids,” said Celeste Kurland, whose children attend the second and fifth grades at P.S. 207. “Never was it mentioned that this was a tentative plan…that this was a dream,” said Cathy Sullivan, co-president of P.S. 207’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA). “It’s like taunting us because the city promises this money to us then says you have to wait,” said Ellie McGurty, who has a child enrolled in the fifth grade at P.S. 207. With 80 to 90 school construction projects throughout the city, like that for P.S. 207, in danger of being canned, DOE officials did their best to empathize with outraged parents. “I can see the anger in the room,” said Lorraine Grillo of the School Construction Authority (SCA). “We’re angry too.” Although Region 6 Superintendent Gloria Buckery said, “We will fight to make sure that the [CFE] funding is available,” she admitted, “I can’t promise that it will be ready by September.” The only thing that parents and educators could agree on is that state legislators, including Golden, should demand that the CFE money be released. “All of us together have to put pressure on Albany – all the state officials – to get this money,” Grillo said. “Keep the pressure on,” said Golden. “You do everything you can – write, scream, make phone calls,” City Councilmember Lew Fidler advised. “And we’ll do everything we can.”