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Whitestone school strapped for cash

Whitestone mothers Mary Ermogenous (back, from l.), Athena Pappas, Harriet Demetriou and Danielle Vargas are concerned about cuts at their children's school, PS 193. Photo by Connor Adams Sheets
By Connor Adams Sheets

A school without a gym teacher or librarian and as many as 37 students in each of its classrooms might sound like it belongs in a poor part of the city — a place that one would be hard-pressed to find in northeast Queens.

But PS 193 in Whitestone is just that school, and the parents of students enrolled there are working to ensure that something is done to address the hardships their children face in the wake of recent budgetary cuts.

Over the last three years, the belt tightening has left the school with no gym teacher and no librarian, and in June the school learned it was losing three full-time teachers. Four classrooms will sit empty this year for lack of funding for teachers, the school’s PTA co-president, Athena Pappas, said.

“Just in my son’s class alone three kids are leaving the school because of this,” she said. “He had 21 kids in his kindergarten class, and in first-grade he’s going to have 31.”

One of the key reasons the school is in dire straits, according to Pappas, is the fact it is ineligible for Title 1 funding, unlike neighboring schools including PS 79, PS 169, PS 184 and PS 209, which have more funding and staff as a result of such monies.

To be eligible for Title 1 status, 40 percent of a school’s students must be eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. PS 193 comes in at about 35 percent, said Pappas, who has children entering pre-kindergarten and first-grade at the school.

As a result of the funding problems, class sizes at the school at 152-20 11th Ave. have increased to 30 and 31 students in two first-grade classes, 33 and 34 students in two second-grade classes and 36 and 37 students in two fourth-grade classes, Pappas said.

“A normal class size at 193 is 22 to 27. I usually have to only make one thing of cupcakes, that’s all I know,” said Danielle Vargas, a Whitestone resident with children entering third- and fifth-grades at the school. “I just want to not see any kid in a class with more than 30 kids, because are you really teaching or are you just baby-sitting?”

Vargas, Pappas and about 80 percent of the other PS 193 parents signed a petition and sent it to City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and city Schools Chancellor Joel Klein asking for help in securing more funding for the school.

Parents at the school have come together to pick up some of the slack, volunteering their time to clean and renovate the library and perform other needed tasks, but Harriet Demetriou, the PTA’s co-president and a mother of children entering kindergarten and second-grade at PS 193, said they cannot fix all of the school’s problems by themselves.

“We’re doing as much as we can as parents to help, but we need help. We can’t do everything on our own,” she said. “I get so upset when I think about this.”

Pappas said one major problem contributing to the school losing so many educators is the fact that most of its teachers have many years of experience and receive the maximum salary, depleting the school’s budget. She said teacher’s pay should be removed from school’s budgets and schools should be allotted a number of educators instead of an amount of money to spend on them.

Mary Ermogenous, who has a daughter entering kindergarten at the school, said one way to help alleviate the salary issue would be to encourage teachers to retire.

“They need to offer retirement incentives, not these budget cuts,” she said. “It would get some of these higher-paid teachers out and bring in some new, younger teachers.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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