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Real School Pests; School Funding

by Deborah Apsel and Clara Hemphill of InsideSchools.org, Jan 26, 2005
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Whatever the schoolyard taunts about first-grade pests, New York City schools have a real pest problem. Nearly 80 percent of Inside Schools readers who responded to a recent poll about pest infestations said their schools had problems with mice or rats, while 76 percent said there were problems with cockroaches. While the poll is not scientific, it indicates that a pest problem exists and may be more of a norm than an exception in schools across the city.

Of 198 parents, students and teachers responding to the poll, 47 percent reported that mice or rats could often be seen during the school day, 29 percent described "occasional" rodent problems, 4 percent reported rodent droppings in the kitchen and cafeteria, and 20 percent reported no significant rodent problems.

Thirty-six percent saw a persistent infestation of cockroaches, while 30 percent described occasional cockroach sightings, 11 percent reported droppings in the kitchen and cafeteria, and 24 percent found no significant cockroach problems. And some readers pointed to problems with other city pests -- pigeons, squirrels, water bugs -- in and around their schools.

A parent at the Brooklyn New School said her daughter's kindergarten teacher vacuums the floors daily to rid the classroom of mouse droppings. This parent reported seeing rodents, as well as roaches, scurrying through classrooms and halls.

A staff member at East Village Community School in Manhattan described mice as "permanent residents" in the school. "Every day, there are droppings on desks, tables, and shelving." A parent at La Guardia High School for Music & Art and Performing Arts said, "The mice scurry in broad daylight in a room full of kids. There are mouse droppings on the costumes and books, and the pages of the books have been nibbled by the mice."

While some readers cited construction in their school as the source of pest problems, others pointed to the food in classrooms, particularly in younger grades where kids often eat snacks and meals in their rooms. "There wouldn't be any roaches in the school at all if teachers and students would eat [only] in the lunchroom," wrote Ray Ciano, a member of the custodial staff at PS 314 in Brooklyn.

In fact, schools that seem to have the problem under control are scrupulous about cleanliness and take aggressive steps to block any holes that might allow pests to come into the building. "If you don't feed them, they don't come," said Dave Daley, custodian at New Explorations for Science Technology and Math (NEST+M), a K-12 school in Manhattan. At his school, even teachers must eat their lunch in the cafeteria, and eating in classrooms is forbidden. Daley encourages his staff to check the building's exterior doors for cracks, to patch all holes, and to put good saddles on classroom entrances. The floors are scrubbed regularly. Glue boards are placed on floors to catch mice. Even so, he says, it is a constant battle to keep the pests in check.

While some readers wrote in to praise topnotch custodians for keeping school buildings clean and pest-free, the majority of respondents seemed to think custodians, schools and the Department of Education must make more of an effort to address the problem of vermin in city schools.

One reader complained that pest problems resulted from "classroom floors that are not washed often enough." And a teacher at a Manhattan schools wrote, "There are many holes in our classroom and they have never been filled, nor have I ever seen an exterminator."

Poll finds voters back billions more for city schools

With State Supreme Judge Leland DeGrasse about to issue a court order -- the latest round in the long-running Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit to get more money for city public schools -- most voters in the state think New York City schools should get an additional $5.6 billion a year, according to a new poll by Quinnipac University. But voters also say that New York City should pay for at least some of the increase in spending.

A court-appointed panel (in pdf format) said in November that New York City schools need $5.6 billion a year more, but left open the question of who should pay for it. The special masters' report also said the schools need a total of $9.2 billion more in capital improvements. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has maintained that the state should pay for the entire increase, while that state maintains that the city should pick up 40 percent of the tab.

A new poll, based on a survey taken between December 3 and 6, 2004 of 1,186 registered voters, shows voters statewide support the recommendations of the court-appointed panel by a margin of 61 to 31 percent. Support for the funding is strongest in the city and weakest upstate, but, even there, 47 percent of respondents favored the increased funding with 43 percent opposed. By a margin of 76 to 8 percent, voters also said New York City should foot at least part of the bill. Even New York City voters, by a margin of 62 to 30 percent, say the city should share in the cost.

Governor George Pataki has proposed paying for the increase by installing slot machines at racetracks and off-track betting parlors. But voters, by a margin of 54 to 40 percent, said that was a "bad idea." More popular, according to the poll, was the notion of cutting state funding to rich school districts to help poor districts, which 50 percent supported. The poll found 22 percent favored a state tax increase, while only 10 percent favored local tax increases.

This topic page has been adapted from articles that originally appeared on Insideschools.org, an independent guide to New York City public schools sponsored by Advocates for Children.

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