By Rich Bockmann
Everyone wants their child to go to a great school, but with spaces in Queens limited, the city has its hands full simply finding seats for the ever-increasing number of students who fill its rosters each September.
That sobering reality was the message the city Department of Education sent to education stakeholders Monday at a meeting held at the Borough Board to discuss the department’s preliminary plans to provide space for Queens students in the 2012-13 school year.
Marc Sternberg, deputy chancellor for the DOE Division of Portfolio Planning, said 40,000 new students enroll in city schools each year between the end of the school year and October. Of the 28,000 new seats the department is planning to add throughout the city, 14,000 are scheduled to be completed in Queens — the majority of them by 2015.
“We wish we were growing schools faster,” the deputy chancellor told the meeting at Borough Hall. “We’re not going to make everyone happy. This isn’t 2004; we’re pulling back when we wish we didn’t have to.”
In lieu of new construction projects, the department will continue to rely on structural changes such as searching for efficiencies in using current spaces, implementing zoning changes and reconfiguring grade spans to accommodate students. These options, however, represent their own unique challenges.
“Here in Queens, we have some of the most overcrowded districts in the city,” said Drew Patterson, the DPP Queens associate planner. “We’re not swimming in unutilized space.”
Department representatives asked the elected officials, community board chairs and community education district council members in attendance to submit sites they though would make good locations for future schools.
One method the DOE has relied upon to alleviate overcrowding is to rezone districts and individual schools. For the current school year, the DOE rezoned elementary schools in District 24 and District 30 and plans to do the same for pockets of overcrowding in District 24 next year.
The topic of rezoning provoked a heated reaction from City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who called a portion of the department’s presentation that touted its effort to reduce overcrowding at Bayside and Francis Lewis high schools “utterly meaningless” and accused department representatives of lying when they said they had plans to build new schools in District 26.
Director of Planning Amanda Cahn said the high schools had been rezoned in order to reduce overall enrollment.
“There has to be a tipping point at some place. Kids want to go to a good school, but we don’t want enrollment to explode,” she said.
Representatives from the Division of Portfolio Planning will attend a rezoning meeting Sept. 22 at PS 49, at 79-15 Penelope Ave. in Middle Village.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.