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Chancellor Under Fire at Cec Meet

Parents Air DOE Gripes In Glendale

Parents of public school students got a chance to ask questions and air grievances to Department of Education Chancellor DennisWalcott during the District 24 Community Education Council meeting at P.S./I.S. 113 in Glendale last Tuesday, May 28.

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott is pictured in the left photo answering questions from parents during the District 24 Community Education Council’s meeting last Tuesday, May 28, at P.S./I.S. 113 in Glendale. Shown at right, many parents brought signs to the District 24 Community Education Council meeting that displayed concerns over school overcrowding and the use of portable classrooms.

Among the issues discussed were school overcrowding, the continued use of portable classrooms, bussing and transportation, and the co-location of a middle school and four ex- isting high schools on a campus in Elmhurst.

Walcott began by giving a short update on the district. He said the Department of Education (DOE) has created 8,700 seats since 2003 and aims to create an additional 5,100 seats. Of the projected total, 9,800 are slated elementary schools seats, and 4,000 are middle schools seats, he said.

Two schools in the district will receive additional funding to help bring up “fair student funding” averages, according to Walcott. I.S. 61 in Corona and I.S. 5 in Elmhurst will be allocated $726,000 and $258,000 respectively-some of the highest additional allocations in the city, he said.

Translators did not arrive in time to cover much of the meeting, so Walcott told the crowd he would hold a special meeting at P.S. 143 in Corona to speak to parents there and address their issues.

Co-location concerns

Several parents voiced disquiet over students from M.S. 311 sharing a campus with three high schools, including a transfer school and a special education school that serves students that are severely emotionally challenged and may be as old as 21.

According to city records, the school will co-locate with Civic Leadership Academy, Pan American International High School, VOYAGES Preparatory, and Queens Transition Center for two years starting in the fall of 2013.

“You should not have children in the same building as 21-year-olds, no matter how you paint it,” said one parent who called VOYAGES a “lastchance school.”

Walcott told the audience that there is no data to show that co-location is dangerous.

“That’s how we maximize the use of our buildings, and we have not had any increase in incidents on those campuses,” he said, noting that violent incidents at schools are down city-wide.

When a parent asked about opting out, he said there is no “opt-out,” but parents can enroll their children in a school other than M.S. 311.

CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni suggested co-locating other high schools at the Elmhurst Campus and sending M.S. 311 somewhere else.

“That’s not going to happen,” Walcott said.

The Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) passed the proposal to co-locate M.S. 311 with the other schools on Dec. 20, 2012 after a public hearing on Nov. 28, 2012.

Jillian Roland, an associate planner with the office of portfolio management noted the co-location was only approved for two years, and if building takes longer, the PEP will hold a public hearing and an additional vote to extend the co-location for another year.

There is currently no such proposal, according a list of upcoming PEP public hearings.

Bussing at Big Six Towers

Parent Tom Haggerty told the chancellor busses that transport students in grades K through two to P.S. 229 should pick up older students, too-a practice that stopped in 2011. Haggerty said the area is too dangerous, particularly the intersection of 61st Street and Laurel Hill Boulevard.

“More traffic and more people rushing to their destinations were, are and always will be recipes for disaster,” he said.

Due to the Big Six’s proximity to the school, DOE regulations normally require students in third grade and up walk to school rather than receiving bus service, officials noted.

Elizabeth Rose, chief of staff for the DOE’s Department of Operations, said a “hazard variance” was granted due to construction in the area, and, while it ended in 2006 bus service for third- to sixth-graders continued to the Big Six until 2011.

The path older students take to school is safe, she said.

“The route does consist entirely of Department of Transportation marked crosswalks and stoplights, and the Office of Vehicle Transportation has walked that route many times … and concluded it is safe there,” Rose stated. “There are no clear, known hazards on that route.”

CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni said he has walked the area with Department of Transportation officials and it is “not a safe place for a child to walk.”

“While we walked there, two kids almost got hit by cars,” said CEC member Bill Kregler.

Comaianni said drivers exiting the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway create dangerous conditions at the intersection of Laurel Hill Boulevard and 61st Street.

“Everybody tries to beat that light,” he said, noting he has walked the area with Department of Transportation officials and CEC members to gauge the safety. “While we were standing there hellip; we must have seen six, seven cars run through the red light.”

Walcott called the problem an enforcement issue, saying he would follow up with police and the DOT to crack down on unsafe drivers.

“I’m not changing my mind on the policy initiative, but I will definitely deal with the enforcement side and any type of additional supports to make sure that the safety is there,” he said .

Kregler said the council had been asking the DOE why the variance was removed for the last three years. “This reasons for the removal of the variance near construction was given to me tonight, just prior to this meeting,” he said. “This is after three years of asking for it. That’s an issue. hellip; It truly shows a lack of professionalism.”

Kregler said the DOE needs to reevaluate how safe routes are. More cars travel in the area, and new trucking routes send big rigs down Laurel Hill Boulevard.

“It is a clear, present danger for the children,” he said.

Comaianni and Kregler noted the bus that transports younger students from Big Six to P.S. 229 is only half full and said allowing older students to ride would not create additional costs or set a precedent.

Walcott disagreed, saying an exception would create a policy precedent that could lead to additional costs if similar exceptions were granted elsewhere in the city.

“What I have committed to tonight, though, is to take a look with DOT and the [police department] as far as both the enforcement and any other changing patterns to see if areas may be unsafe. hellip; What I will not commit to tonight is changing a policy, because the policy does have implications for the system itself.” inBloom and “data sharing”

Two parents raised concerns about a state program that would house personal information about all public school students.

The program is being administered by a third-party organization called inBloom.

Parents wanted to know why they weren’t informed that their childrens’ information was being collected.

Collecting data isn’t new, Walcott said. He told the crowd the various school districts have been collecting student data for years. However, the database maintained by inBloom will be statewide. Previously, separate school districts did not share data with one another.

He said the information will be kept in the strictest confidentiality, adding there has never been a data leak.

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