2003-12-24 / Front Page

School Capital Plan Raises Questions

by linda j. wilson
School Capital Plan Raises Questions

by linda j. wilson

"We don’t know what’s happening everywhere all the time," William Goldstein, president of the city School Construction Authority (SCA) replied to representatives of community boards in Eastern Queens who asked why plans for new school buildings seem to ignore their section of the borough. The questions arose during the December meeting of the borough board last week at which Goldstein and Lorraine Grillo, SCA project support senior director, presented the city Department of Education five-year capital plan.

The five-year capital plan calls for $13.1 billion in capital expenditures and improvements for Fiscal Years 2005 through 2009. Of that $13.1 billion, some $4 billion will be used to build 76 new school buildings throughout New York City, of which 14 elementary and elementary-intermediate schools are slated to be built in Queens. One new school, with 441-seat capacity, is to be built in Community School District 26, which covers Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Queens Village, Bellerose and Floral Park.

No new schools are scheduled to be built in District 25, which covers schools in Flushing, College Point and Whitestone for the most part. One District 25 School is in Bayside and two District 26 schools are in Flushing. "In Flushing, housing seems to be the biggest issue," Goldstein said, conceding that City Councilmember John Liu, whose 20th Councilmanic District includes Flushing, had noted at other meetings that the population of Flushing is rising steadily and housing is continually being sought for the newcomers, many of whom are families with children. Those children will be entering the New York City school system and represent a need for increased school capacity, Liu stated in other meetings on the subject. Elected officials have stated that a projected drop in enrollment of 91,000 students over the next 10 years is not applicable to Downtown Flushing, for example.

Some two-thirds of the proposed new schools citywide will accommodate 650 kindergarten through grade 8 students in each. The plan also calls for four new high schools to be built in Queens, which Borough President Helen Marshall hailed in remarks made at hearings held a week before the board meeting at which the plan was discussed. She noted that all high schools in Queens are on staggered sessions and some are on back-to-back shifts, thereby excluding the possibility of after school activities or team sports. As presented, the plan would significantly reduce split sessions in high schools.

Goldstein noted that the plan would eliminate all transportable classroom units, which constitute classrooms at many Queens schools. Mini schools more than 20 years old would also be eliminated by the year 2012. Class sizes would be reduced for primary students in kindergarten through third grade at elementary schools throughout the city as well.

Despite the dearth of new schools slated for Eastern Queens, schools in all districts are in line for the borough’s share of $4.5 billion in capital improvements. PS 19 in Corona, PS 7, 102 and 155, Elmhurst, IS 119, Glendale, IS 73, Maspeth, PS 49, 87 and 128 in Middle Village and PS 81 and IS 93 in Ridgewood in District 24 will get $31,452,658 in capital improvement monies. In District 25, nine schools, P.S. 21, 22, 107, 154, 165 and 201 in Flushing, P.S. 169, Bayside, and P.S. 200 and 209, Whitestone, are to undergo repairs for a total of $20,12,045. District 26’s PS 18 in Queens Village, PS 115 and 191, Floral Park, PS 162, Bayside, and PS 178, Jamaica, will receive $11,647,396 for repair and improvement projects. In District 27, PS 42, Arverne, PS 223, Jamaica, PS 12, Richmond Hill, IS 180, Rockaway Park, PS 108 and 123, South Ozone Park, and PS 60, Woodhaven, will receive $14,007,884 for capital improvements. Capital improvement funds amounting to $28,904,767 will go to PS 196 and JHS 190 in Forest Hills, PS 30, 48 and 182 and its annex and JHS 8 and 157 in Jamaica, and PS 174, Rego Park in District 28. PS 52 in Jamaica and PS 118 and 134 and IS 238 in Hollis, all in District 29, will receive $9,035,363 for capital improvement projects. Rounding out the list of Queens school districts, District 30 will receive $11,612,588 in capital improvement monies for PS 71 and 166 in Long Island City, and PS 69 and its annex and 149 and IS 145 in Jackson Heights.

Improvements to physical facilities at existing schools where not enough students are reading or performing mathematics at grade level will account for $2.034 billion of the $13.1 billion total. The size of the School Improvement and Restructuring Allocations (SIRAs) to be received by each of the 671 schools performing poorly according to state or federal standards throughout New York City will be contingent on the individual school restructuring plan, to be selected by the Education Department instructional team, including the school principal, local instructional superintendent, regional superintendent and deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. The provisions of the capital plan allow for phasing out large schools and replacing them with smaller schools with approximately 500 students, restructuring within an existing school by creating smaller learning communities or bringing in an outside entity such as a charter or partnership organization to operate a school.

Charter and partnership schools are allocated $450 million over five years under the plan. As the Education Department recognizes that access to quality facilities is "arguably the single greatest barrier to charter school development," the department has begun to make public school facilities available to charter schools. During the 2003-04 academic year, seven of the city’s 244 charter schools were housed in public schools throughout the city. The plan proposes opening 50 new charter schools between 2005 and 2009. Some of those schools are expected to be housed in Education Department buildings that will require only minor renovations; others will be housed in Education Department structures needing major renovations or in leased premises.

Technology advancements are recognized as an essential component of the 21st century teaching and learning environment. $735.8 million has been allocated for this purpose for schools citywide. Safety enhancements, including surveillance systems, a network upgrade to the Police Department safety division and metal detectors, among other items, will add $157.2 million to the capital plan budget. General enhancements will account for $1,272.4 million, science lab upgrades $293 million and accessibility enhancements another $178.7 million. Physical fitness upgrades are budgeted at $331.9 million, room conversion and partitioning $37 million and auditorium upgrades $419 million. Manhattan’s School of Co-operative Technical Education ("Co—op Tech), which gives high school students in New York City access to career and technical education courses and a shared instructional program, in which they attend school half a day and work for the other half has proven a success in Manhattan and is proposed to be expanded to the other boroughs. It has been allocated $11.4 million.

The plan, which in sum allocates 35 percent of its proposed $13.1 billion for enhancing school facilities, 31 percent for new capacity and 34 percent for capital improvements, is funded by $6.5 billion in New York City capital funds, much of which is expected to be generated by the judgment against New York state in the campaign for fiscal equity lawsuit, brought earlier this year. Other revenue sources to be explored are as much as $100 million in Resolution A capital funds provided by the borough presidents and City Council, up to $170 million in securitizing future lease income from the Educational Construction Fund, $75 million in federal funding, $400 million over five years from issuance of Qualified Public Educational Facility bonds and $25 million in HUD community development block grant foods. The Department of Education will also continue to seek private contributions to supplement funds from government sources.

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