BY LYNN EDMONDS
Community Board 11 unanimously voted down a proposal to build a high school at the former Bayside Jewish Center on Monday, at the most well-attended meeting that one board member, who’d served for ten years, could remember. The vote was in keeping with the Education Committee’s vote, which was also unanimous.
At the meeting, the School Construction Authority affirmed that they believed 203-05 32nd Ave was an appropriate spot for a 739-seat high school and said they did not plan to withdraw the proposal.
The authority maintains that District 26, which would contain the new school, will need an additional 5,604 seats in the next five years. Schools within the district, namely Benjamin N. Cardozo, Francis Lewis and Bayside high schools, are running at over 140 percent capacity.
But residents who oppose the school have questioned the Department of Education’s estimate on the number of seats needed, arguing that the formula should be re-worked. Others agreed there was a need for seats but said the location was inappropriate.
By Sen. Tony Avella’s (D-Bayside) estimate, there were at least 150 people at the community board meeting, and the majority made their anti-school opinion known through their loud, sustained clapping for speakers who articulated arguments against the school, as well as boos for one or two individuals who spoke in favor of the school.
Prior to making their vote, the board heard from about a dozen speakers, including the public and board members. All but two spoke against the school.
It was a day of reckoning for Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), who had refused to come out against the school, unlike other legislators in the area including Avella, Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing). Opponents of the school particularly criticized him for protesting an unpopular school in Whitestone, but declining to do the same for the Bayside site. Though Vallone was not present at the meeting, his name was frequently invoked, with one speaker asking if councilmembers can be “impeached.”
The meeting also marked the failure of Melanie La Rocca, Chief of Staff at the School Construction Authority, and Michael Mirisola, Director of External Affairs, to make a meaningful dent in the opposition to the school. The SCA staff members had attended three meetings with community members in the last month, and spoken extensively at two of them.
On Monday, they mostly remained seated and heard pointed criticisms from community members and Avella.
“Guess what? I work for these people, and so do you!” Avella told the SCA staffers.
Dave Solano, who organized opposition to the school, asked the SCA employees, “If our community board votes against this site, will the SCA abandon this site?”
La Rocca and Mirisola did not audibly answer.
A large portion of the opposition centered on traffic concerns and a fear of car crashes and increased commute times.
But another large contingent said they were upset because students from other neighborhoods – predominately-black Jamaica being the most frequently cited – were being “bussed in” and straining Bayside’s resources.
The sentiment comes at a moment when the City Council is working on legislation to battle racial and socioeconomic segregation in New York City schools.
With such a powerful consensus against the school at Monday’s meeting, residents wondered how much weight CB 11’s decision would carry when the City Council takes the deciding vote on the school.
It did have a stated impact on Vallone’s stance.
“As a result of last night’s most recent Community Board 11 decision, we will stand in opposition to this site, despite the Community Board’s repeated requests for a specialized high school in the district for nearly a decade,” Vallone said in a statement.
But one resident speculated that Vallone’s stated disapproval didn’t guarantee the City Council would shut down the site. He said in some cases City Council members would vote “no” on something for appearance’s sake while asking their colleagues to vote “yes.”
Reach Lynn Edmonds at (718) 357-7400 x127, email@example.com or @Ellinoamerikana