Boro home to third of crowded city schools

By Kelsey Durham

Roughly one-third of the city’s most overcrowded schools are in Queens, a recent report from city Comptroller Scott Stringer said.

In an audit released last month that studied New York City’s 59 most overused public schools from 2010-12, 20 schools named on the list were in Queens, with at least one school coming from each of the borough’s seven education districts.

Stringer’s report shows that the 20 Queens schools on the list operated between 152 percent and 188 percent of their total capacity during the two years the audit surveyed.

District 28 — made up of central and southern Queens neighborhoods including Jamaica, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill, Jamaica Estates, Rego Park, South Ozone Park and Kew Gardens — had six schools on Stringer’s audit of the most overcrowded facilities, the most of any district in the borough.

The most overcrowded school in the borough, according to the report, is PS 303 in Forest Hills, which listed an enrollment of 210 students for the 2011-12 school year, almost twice its 112-student capacity. Forest Hills High School came in second, with an enrollment of 3,834 students against its 2,064-student capacity, a utilization of 186 percent.

Four other Queens high schools — Francis Lewis, the International High School at LaGuardia, Long Island City and Flushing — also made the list of the borough’s most overcrowded buildings.

Stringer said in a release that the audit was focused on how the city Department of Education handled the overcrowding and steps it did or did not take to lessen the number of buildings operating beyond their capacity. Stringer criticized the DOE and said his audit found no evidence that the agency took any action to act on the issue during the two years studied.

“With significant overcrowding in schools across New York City, the Department of Education simply wasn’t interested in finding out what policies worked to reduce class sizes and help our children achieve their full academic potential,” Stringer said in a release. “Every child deserves enough space to be able to learn. This audit found that there is much more to be done before DOE gets a passing grade on reducing overcrowding in schools.”

Other Queens schools to make the list of the 59 most overcrowded were PS 28, PS 50, PS 54, PS 60, PS 64, PS 66, PS 82, PS 131, PS 151, PS 182, PS 224, PS 228, PS 242 and PS 245.

In response to Stringer’s criticism of the DOE’s failure to alleviate overcrowding, Kathleen Grimm, deputy DOE chancellor, sent a letter to the comptroller’s office stating that while the agency agreed with much of the recommendations, it found the audit “deliberately misleading and demonstrating a clearly biased approach to the issue.”

Grimm argued that the DOE is taking steps to reduce overcrowding by reducing a school’s zone or creating more attractive alternatives to overcrowded schools, but she said the change will not be seen overnight.

“Most of these strategies require time to impact a school, as all students already enrolled in a school are allowed to continue until the school’s terminal grade,” Grimm wrote. “As a result, rezoning an elementary school can take six years until the full impact of that rezoning is achieved.”

City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), who serves as chairman of the Council’s Education Committee, said the audit did not come as a surprise to him because overcrowding has long been a problem in public schools.

“It’s a major concern and it’s gotten worse over the years,” he said. “Despite the attempts by the DOE to provide us with more seats, it’s unfortunate that we’ve actually fallen behind.”

Dromm, who taught fourth-grade at PS 199 in Sunnyside for 25 years, said some strategies such as counting children in trailers and using a system called the Blue Book Task Force, which measures how space is being used in public schools, would help speed up the process of easing overcrowding.

He said having a more accurate account of just how bad the problem is will go a long way toward fixing it.

“More needs to be done,” he said. “It’s taking too long and we can barely keep up with the need. We need to double our efforts.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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