Hail Weprin, Miller, Weingarten For School $
“How do we ensure a sound education when we cannot ensure dry classrooms, audible announcements and up-to-date fire alarms?” City Councilmember David Weprin asked two weeks ago when he, Council Speaker Gifford Miller and United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten challenged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to restore $1.3 billion to the Department of Education five-year capital plan. The obvious answer is: we can’t. To his credit, the mayor acknowledged this universal truth when he restored the full amount to the education capital budget for Fiscal Year 2006.
Weprin, Weingarten and Miller, and other elected officials gathered at Cardozo. H.S. to celebrate that the $1.3 billion earmarked for capital improvements to schools throughout the city had been put back in the Fiscal Year 2006 budget. Considering the magnitude of their achievement and how truly far-reaching its effects will be, they were, and are, more than a little entitled to be proud of themselves.
While it is possible—and, in some cases, desirable—to preserve the architectural elements of a bygone era, the fact remains that crumbling school buildings pose a threat to everyone who uses them. Classrooms in which children have to hold open umbrellas over their heads whenever it rains are not conducive to imparting knowledge. And as we have said in this space on more than one occasion, how can we expect the children enrolled in our schools to respect and appreciate education when it is apparent that the adults in their lives value it so little that they are expected to learn in classes held in restrooms, corridors and closets?
Under the original budget proposal, Weprin’s district alone faced losing $16 million in repairs. Another $12 million in repair projects would have been delayed to Fiscal Year 2006, for a total of $28 million in lost school construction projects in just one year. Benjamin Cardozo H.S., for example, would have lost $8.5 million in repair projects, including an auditorium upgrade, installation of low-voltage electrical systems, elimination of periodic flooding and installation of new windows. Any one of these projects is clearly vital to the school continuing to function. Delaying or losing all four would effectively destroy the school’s usefulness as a venue for providing quality education, as, indeed, Weingarten noted. “When people say resources don’t matter, they should look at what overcrowding is doing to Cardozo,” she said. The story can be repeated throughout Weprin’s 23rd council district, the borough and the entire city. The proposed school repairs that would have been delayed or cancelled altogether are neither cosmetic nor trivial in nature. Each project is not only necessary, but vital. A school with electrical wiring that cannot handle computers’ requirements, and which lacks Internet connection capabilities cannot meet today’s needs. An auditorium that lacks a sound system is an impediment to educational needs. Flooded facilities are a health hazard, as are missing windows. To delay or cancel these vital repairs indicates overwhelming contempt for the children trying to get an education in New York City schools.
“New Yorkers know the right choice is to keep our promise to our students, before we lose another generation of children to the neglect that has plagued our school system for so many years,” Council Speaker Miller declared. He, Weprin and Weingarten are to be commended for making strenuous and sustained efforts to keep that promise-and holding the mayor to his part of the bargain as well. Our children, the future of New York City, deserve no less.