Halloran, DOE clash over sharp rise in size of student body

City Councilman Dan Halloran (l.) says the overcrowding of District 26 high schools is unacceptable. Photo by Howard Koplowitz
By Howard Koplowitz

City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) joined education advocates in front of Bayside High School last week to deride the city Department of Education for allowing a surge of students to enter classes this year.

Halloran said he had heard in June that Bayside HS was going to have up to 1,000 more students in September than last year, but was told by the agency his information was wrong.

But when September came, he said the school had an increase of nearly 500 students — from 3,487 to 3,800 — and is dangerously overcrowded, Halloran said. The DOE disputed Halloran’s numbers, and a department spokesman said the school has 3,676 enrolled students. The DOE spokesman said there were 3,525 students at Bayside High last year.

“They have continuously had to do more with less,” Halloran said of Bayside HS, referring to the influx of students who have been sent to the school, at 32-24 Corporal Kennedy St., from outside District 26 and a decrease in funding for enrichment programs.

“Unfortunately, schools like this … are being forced even further to strain their resources,” he said.

Halloran noted that School District 26 consistently ranks in the top three in every educational category in the city, but said, “We can’t continue to do that if we don’t keep the money.”

Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, a DOE spokesman, said the city has worked hard to pare down the number of students at Bayside.

“Through close collaboration with Principal [Michael] Athy, we’ve made real progress in reducing enrollment at Bayside over the past few years and already have strategies in place that will build on that progress and ensure Bayside is providing quality learning environments for our students.”

Bayside HS had 3,962 students in the 2007 to 2008 school year, which is expected to drop to 3,487 this year, according to city statistics.

Zarin-Rosenfeld said schools frequently deal with an influx of students in the beginning of year due to a variety of reasons, including students who just moved into the city or those from families could no longer afford to send them to private school.

Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said he wondered if students who would have gone to Jamaica HS but were discouraged from enrolling because the city had threatened to close it down had spilled over into schools like Bayside.

“Bayside, Francis Lewis and Cardozo have all grown even though we were told they’d go smaller,” Weprin said. “What happened to the diaspora of Jamaica High School students? I bet you many of them chose Bayside, Francis Lewis, and Cardozo.”

David Solano, co-president of Bayside’s PTA, said the school’s plea for more resources has fallen on deaf ears.

“We’ve tried to work with the DOE … but we don’t seem to be getting anywhere,” he said.

Solano said some students are forced to learn in trailers and make up classes run well after 3:30 p.m.

“We’ve well exceeded our capacity,” he said. The students are “getting shortchanged by this kind of crowding.”

Bayside senior Robert Campagna said the overcrowding problem has snowballed since he first started going to the school.

“It’s been bad, this year it’s a lot worse,” he said. “It definitely gives me trouble going to classes. There’s too many kids in the hall that you have to squeeze pass everybody.”

Jeanette Cunalata, PTA president of nearby Francis Lewis HS in Fresh Meadows, said the 4,300 students who are enrolled at that school this year is 2,500 more than the building can hold.

She said there are eight trailers at the school to accommodate the influx of students and the school day runs from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“We don’t get support, just budget cuts,” Cunalata said.

Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece said the overcrowding in the district is unfair to students.

“A lot of us in this community are sick and tired of being shortchanged,” he said. “Instead of giving us more money, they’re just giving us more kids. These are our schools, we want them back and we want them back for our kids now.”

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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