BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
New York City public schools struggle to fit thousands of students each year within the building capacity, but instead are forced to push the students out into the transportable classrooms.
Council District 21 is very much aware of the implications of overcrowding in school Districts 24 and 30.
District 24 is the third most overcrowded district in the City, with 65 percent of its schools overcrowded, while District 30 is the sixth most overcrowded and 55 percent of its schools are overcrowded.
Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and the Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott held the first meeting of the newly-formed Education Task Force at the Langston Hughes Library in Corona on April 25.
The Education Task Force’s goal is to reduce overcrowding, create a holistic procedure, which includes parents and the community in the rezoning process, consider space capacity for co-location and address the issues surrounding portable classrooms. By meeting with members of the community – parents, teachers, faculty, Community Education Councils and local elected officials – a cohesive short and long-term plan to address overcrowding and its ineffectiveness is the main topic of debate.
“Overcrowding is an issue we take seriously and we have worked closely with communities across the city to ensure schools have space,” said Walcott. “In Districts 24 and 30, we have worked with the Community Education Councils and local elected officials to alleviate overcrowding and opened 12 new buildings in the past five years nearly 6,400 new seats, in addition to leasing extra space for overcrowded schools.”
No new transportable classrooms have been built since 1990.
“We have 500 children sitting inside temporary facilities that are in constant need of repair and the students are required to go in and out of the building regardless of the weather,” said Principal of PS 19Q, Genie Calibar. “We are constantly worried about the safety of our children sitting inside the trailers.”
“I am very worried about agitating my son’s asthma because he has to go in and out of the portable classrooms,” said Martha Sanchez, a parent leader from Make the Road New York and mother of two elementary school students in District 24 schools.
Ferreras explained how difficult it is to seek vacant and suitable construction sites to build new schools on, therefore it is not always easy to add new seats, but with the help of the Dept. of Education, they plan to open 12 new buildings and three building extensions within the next three years.
“We need to be very creative in our approach to find new space, so please look out for empty warehouses and vacant lots,” said Ferreras.
“The steps to build a new school require a suitable construction site, which needs to be environmentally sound and meets a certain size requirement, while providing adequate light and air ventilation,” said Lorraine Grillo, president of the School Construction Authority (SCA). `
“The construction of a new school must also go through a public approval process, which more often than not is a topic of opposition from the local community,” said Grillo. “The design of the building is done after the approval, in addition to the public bid and construction of the school, which can take up to a few years to complete.”
“We have built a lot, but we need to build more,” said Walcott. “We are open to ideas, suggestions and feedback for the future because we are conscious about the issue.”
“Over the years, there have been some creative approaches to dealing with the overcrowding crisis,” said State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst). “But for all the zoning and rezoning, until there’s a seat for every child, it is all a game of musical chairs. No matter what you do, someone is left standing. Children lose.”
Reach Reporter Trisha Sakhuja at (718-357-4000, Ext. 128), or at firstname.lastname@example.org.