Tuesday, May 24, 2005

With Funding Delayed, Our Schools Pay The Price

At PS 176 near 204th Street there is no science lab...the space has been converted to a classroom. At an overflowing PS 192 on 135th Street, hundreds of students must attend classes at a nearby middle school, where they have no access to the gym or library. Scenes like these are repeated at virtually every school here in District Six, and our children pay the price every day.

The root cause of all these disruptions is simple: our school district is among the most overcrowded in the city, with an estimated shortfall of at least 7,500 seats.

But help may be on the way. Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Campaign For Fiscal Equity and championed by Councilmember Robert Jackson, the state’s courts have ruled that New York City schools are due billions of dollars to remedy decades of underfunding by the state. And the court ordered that over $9 billion must specifically be earmarked for capital expenses, making it possible for us to erect desperately needed new schools here in Upper Manhattan to relieve rampant overcrowding.

But don’t expect to see a state-funded school building boom any time soon. Governor Pataki and his Republican allies in the State Senate have steadfastly refused to implement the court order, and another legal hearing on the matter isn’t even scheduled until October. Meanwhile an effort to force the issue through legislation in the Democrat-controlled State Assembly has stalled after the unexpected hospitalization of the chairman of the Education Committee.

In the wake of total inaction in Albany, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller has launched a campaign to provide an infusion of $400 million to city schools next year through the extension of an existing income-tax surcharge on those making more that $250,000. But even this comparatively modest plan is threatened by opposition from Mayor Bloomberg, and the income-tax surcharge looks set to expire.

In case all of this hasn’t already brought tears to your eyes, there’s more bad news: the Department of Education’s formula for assessing school overcrowding so grossly distorts reality (by claiming, for example, that a closet turned into a classroom represents legitimate added capacity!), that Upper Manhattan threatens to be shortchanged no matter how much new money is available.

So if we hope to ever end the overcrowding crisis here in District Six, then we have battles to fight on multiple fronts. Pataki, Bloomberg, the State Senate and the DOE must all hear our voices loudly: our kids deserve adequate educational facilities, not classes in trailers, auditoriums, and closets.


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