Gotham Gazette Mon, 23 Jul 2018 07:50:55 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) My Crowded School, Like Many Others, Needs a Plan de blasio graduation crowding

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

Well-regarded New York City schools are super, and they can do anything. At least that's what they seem to think over at Tweed, home of the Department of Education (DOE). That's why my school, Francis Lewis High School, has 4,683 students at my last count, more than ever, in a building designed for 2,400. We're seen as successful, so a lot of families want their kids to go there. Generally I've agreed, but it's getting to a point where I'm not sure.

I’ll admit outright that I’m partial to our school. I’ve been there 23 years and I’m one of its biggest cheerleaders. Nonetheless, our situation is far from unique. According to DOE data, 550,000 students, fully half of those in the city, are stuffed into overcrowded schools.

How bad is it? Last week I counted 101 oversized classes. That's better than the 268 I counted the first day, but hardly ideal. Ideal, and also mandated by union contract, by the way, is zero overcrowded classes. Every single teacher, as well as basic arithmetic, will tell you that the fewer students there are, the more attention individual teachers can give individual students.

With new students walking in each and every day, and enrolling in the school, I’m not ready to celebrate just yet. The whole process fills me with something not remotely resembling optimism. I’ve counted classes of over 40 students. The city already has the highest class sizes in the state. Thirty-four, becoming the standard rather than the exception these days, is tough. Over 40 borders on impossible for a mere human, and is no help whatsoever for struggling students.

We have two rooms that are converted closets. They have no windows. Inside are indoor air conditioners and HEPA filters designed to make them more bearable. In practice, the A/C units are so loud that they preclude instruction. Some teachers turn them off whenever conversation takes place. Via inertia, they tend to remain off all the time. On sweltering days they must border on torture chambers.

The principal, to his credit, has given up his conference room to be used as a classroom. There are mostly honors classes in there so as not to freak out teachers who have a thin wall with the principal sitting on the other side. It's not quite perfect, though, particularly when the classes are oversized. It’s tough enough handling normal classes in odd spaces.

For my part, I've given up office space as union chapter leader and won't be demanding it back any time soon. But that's a drop in the bucket.

It's tough to get up and down the stairs sometimes. No one pays attention to up and down staircases, no one ever has, and no one ever will. If the movement is up and you want to go down, you have to fight the crowd. Recently, for the first time ever, I had trouble leaving the building. The movement was from the trailers -- did I mention the trailers? -- to the building and I was going the other way. I decided to try to turn around but was too far in to do so. I was fortunate that some students decided to move out of the way and let me through.

We are slated to get an annex in two or three years, assuming the DOE works on schedule. That's a big assumption. After all, Bloomberg was going to get rid of trailers years ago. We'd be pretty much unable to function without them. Ours are going to go when the annex goes up, and there are 20 learning spaces slated for the annex. Assuming we lose the trailers and the two closets as classrooms, we'll have a net gain of 10 classrooms. Given the explosion of students we face, I’m no longer sure that will fix our issue.

One key point: the DOE doesn't cap neighborhood schools like ours. So if people come in from other neighborhoods, other states, or other countries, they can send their kids to our school. In fact, there are two huge Marriott hotels, not yet open, freshly constructed across the street. Anyone staying there long-term could place their kids with us.

Nine years ago the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), with the principals union, the DOE, and our School Leadership Team, was able to come up with a plan to stem enrollment. Over the last few years the city has ignored that plan, with increasingly negative results. Prospective students used to need something like an electric bill to show residency. Now they just need an affidavit, something that basically anyone could write. I don’t want to turn away district families that want to come to our school, but I’d like to maintain our school as a place those families want to come.

Just before we made our agreement with the city, when we were approaching the enrollment we now have, a reporter asked me what the breaking point was. I told her I didn’t know, but I never wanted to find out. Our agreement with the DOE enabled us to help make the number of students more closely suit the space in our building. A few years ago we had closer to 4,200 students with a goal of 3500.

I’m a lowly teacher, and I saw this coming. It’s time for the important folks at Tweed to stop twiddling their thumbs and start earning their hefty salaries. Maybe their offices would be better used as classrooms. Or maybe they could rent space for us in one of the Marriotts.

In fact, I’m told the city has a plan to reduce our enrollment by 100 students a year, beginning next year. That’s fine, but it’s too little too late. I don’t want to begrudge a single student a single place in a single school, but I also don’t want to find out what our breaking point is. I still don’t know what it is, and I still don’t want to know, but it doesn’t feel far off. If the city doesn’t want to know either, they’ll find us alternate space right now. Waiting is the worst idea and not an option.

Arthur Goldstein is an ESL teacher and UFT chapter leader for Francis Lewis High School. On Twitter @TeacherArthurG.

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My Crowded School, Like Many Others, Needs a Plan Mon, 02 Oct 2017 01:20:27 +0000
What’s The [DATA] Point? $66 billion whats the data point

What's The Data Point? Episode 11 - $66 billion - a Back to School episode with CBC's Dave Friedfel & Riley Edwards  [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

This week we're back to school and the data point is $66 billion: the amount New York's school districts received in revenue during the 2015-2016 school year. Gotham Gazette's Ben Max and CBC's Director of State Studies Dave Friedfel discuss school funding: how much districts receive and whether aid is targeted to the neediest districts. Then, in part two of the back to school episode, CBC Research Associate Riley Edwards talks with Ben to bust myths about school overcrowding in New York City.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax) & CBC (@cbcny). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

What’s The [DATA] Point? $66 billion Thu, 07 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Overdue DOE Capital Plan To Be Released bdb school visit

De Blasio at a school visit (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)

Once Mayor Bill de Blasio unveils his preliminary budget for 2017 on Thursday, Jan. 21, the City Council will begin to hold hearings and formulate its response. In conversations with Gotham Gazette, City Council members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the finance committee, and Daniel Dromm, education committee chair, said that one of their top priorities during budget season will be addressing school overcrowding through the Department of Education’s capital spending plan. 

Capital spending allows for the expansion and rehabilitation of existing schools and the building of new schools.

Each year, the DOE five-year Capital Plan is meant to be included in the mayor’s executive budget, updated in the November financial plan, and then amended through a public review process for inclusion in the next budget. This review process lends the plan transparency as the DOE and School Construction Authority consult with Community Education Councils, Community Boards, City Council borough delegations, and other elected officials. The plan is again updated and typically released in February for approval by the Panel for Education Policy. The PEP then forwards it to the Mayor and City Council.

In the last two years, the process has been significantly off schedule. Last year, the DOE Capital Plan Amendment was delayed till May 2015 to align it with the city’s 10-year capital plan. The amendment proposed a $13.5 billion five-year DOE Capital Plan for 2015-2019, up from $12 billion the previous year. As a result of the delay, there was no update in November.

The amendment will now be introduced along with the preliminary budget on Thursday, OMB spokesperson Amy Spitalnick confirmed.

“It’s disappointing that this is the second year that (the capital plan) hasn’t come out on time,” said Council Member Dromm. “I’m hoping that it will be out shortly. We need time to look at it and examine it.”

The capital plan is especially important to Dromm, Ferreras-Copeland, and others who represent districts with some of the most overcrowded schools in the city. Schools in Queens, where both Dromm and Ferreras-Copeland reside, are the most overcrowded of any borough.

“It’s overdue, it’s late,” Ferreras-Copeland said of the plan. When the Council does get it, she said she will work closely with Dromm to appeal for an additional $1 billion to address the issue of overcrowding.

The DOE capital plan estimates that adding around 38,000 seats would help alleviate the problem, but critics say that number is too low. A June 2014 report by Class Size Matters, a nonprofit that advocates for smaller class sizes, estimated the shortage of seats at around 100,000 (Dromm believes it’s more likely between 50,000 and 75,000).

“If you look at all the development going on in the city, particularly the mayor’s plan to add 200,000 affordable housing units, then there’s a dire need for additional seats,” Dromm said. He wants most of the new money in the capital plan put towards building new schools rather than refurbishing existing ones. “We need physical seats. We need brick-and-mortar buildings to be built,” he said.

Class Size Matters’ executive director, Leonie Haimson, doubts that the update to the capital plan will be good enough, even if it is better. She called for doubling the number of seats from the last plan and investing $125 million each year from the city coffers, which would be matched by state funds. She was also critical of the DOE’s slow movement on the plan, which is now already in its second year and unapproved.

“We should have more time, not less time to analyze the plan considering the failures of the DOE in the past,” she said. “There needs to be more public process and more genuine interest on the part of the DOE to listen to people.”

Besides a greater investment in the capital plan, Class Size Matters also advocates for an independent commission to improve planning and efficiency in siting new schools.

“The mayor’s made a big push towards increasing pre-K and housing but paid very little attention to where those kids are going to go to school,” Haimson said. “I don’t think you can create good neighborhoods without schools. We’re the richest city in the richest country in the world and we have severe school overcrowding and waiting lists for kindergarten.”

[Related: What To Watch For As City Budget Season Begins]

by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette.
@samarkhurshid     @GothamGazette

Overdue DOE Capital Plan To Be Released Wed, 20 Jan 2016 03:02:04 +0000