Photo by Phil Corso
By Phil Corso

There were hundreds of voices shouting but one unified message coming out of a crowded protest against class cuts Wednesday at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Oakland Gardens.

“What do we want? AP! When do we want it? Now!” students shouted.

The students came together to demand the city keep its hands off their college-level Advanced Placement courses after their principal announced changes at the school.

Cardozo Principal Gerald Martori sent a letter to parents Tuesday explaining how an unexpected dip in enrollment forced the school to adjust its course offerings. In the letter, he said AP classes taught in double periods would instead go under a “blended learning model,” with the second period devoted to research and portfolio development.

City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said the enrollment miscalculation led to the city Education Department overpaying the school. He called on the city to restore the hundreds of thousands of dollars being rescinded from the school’s budget, which would slash AP courses, sports and certain services.

He said the DOE was forcing the school to repay $400,000 at a rate of $130,000 a year, to make up for a DOE bookkeeping error.

“DOE made an error, and now thousands of students are left in the lurch in the middle of the school year,” Weprin said. “By cutting funds to the school, DOE is unfairly punishing the students for its own mistakes.”

A spokesman for the DOE said it was up to Martori to decide how to manage the budget and fund programs. When it came to enrollment figures, he said the high school was only 15 students below its projections and has until Oct. 31 to get there, which the city was helping them do.

“There were no budget cuts to schools in FY14. School budgets fluctuate annually based on the number of registered students,” a DOE spokesman said. “There was also no error in enrollment. We are working closely with Principal Martori to make sure that the school’s programming is aligned with their budget and continues to focus on providing rigorous courses to prepare our students for college and careers. Cardozo will be able to maintain its Advanced Placement courses.”

Thomas Dinegar, a Cardozo senior and president of the Student Organization, helped organize the raucous rally against the cuts with some fellow classmates over the last two weeks since they started hearing of classes being cut. He said the school needed support from the greater community to make sure its message is heard.

“Budget cuts have been going on for a while, but enough is enough,” Dinegar said. “The people who run this school do a great job, but they’re not being given enough help.”

Senior Lawrence Roodenburg said the school tried cutting an AP economics class he was enrolled in, but ended up keeping it after strong opposition from the students. The school tried compensating students by offering them seats in other classes, but Roodenburg said that was only a quick fix.

Cardozo PTA President Laura Schwartzberg said the city was already shortchanging Cardozo students when comparing them to those at other northeast Queens high schools, such as Bayside High School. She said it was unfair for the DOE to take away what they had already given to the students, but she was proud to see such an organized and strong response.

“These leaders of tomorrow are also the leaders of today,” she said. “The kids are doing what the parents cannot.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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