BY LUIS GRONDA
With the City Dept. of Education looking to implement changes to many schools in Queens and throughout the other four boroughs, the Panel for Educational Policy will discuss and vote on a number of proposals at its upcoming meeting on March 11.
Among the items on the PEP’s agenda include whether to approve or deny a number of changes to schools throughout the city. According to the DOE’s website, the city agency has proposed to either co-locate or phase out several high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. For Queens, this includes co-locating two schools, one in Flushing and the other in Elmhurst, and phasing out two schools in Jamaica.
In relation to that, the 11-member panel will also vote on a proposed moratorium on school closures, phase-outs and co-locations of all schools until the public has enough information on how any of these plans would help a school if implemented. That proposal was created by four of the PEP members including Dmytro Fedkowskyj, the Queens representative on the PEP.
The panel will hold a vote on a proposed 2013 amendment to the 2010-2014 capital budget plan, which will see $290 million advanced to this year’s budget. That money was allocated for later years, but would be available to the department this year if approved. The amendment also includes $200 million funded by the City of New York to fix damage to schools because of Superstorm Sandy. A chancellor’s report will also be given to panel members and the public at the meeting.
Regarding the several changes to school utilization, Fedkowskyj said that he is against changes to schools like Flushing and Newtown high schools because they are not beneficial to the facilities long-term.
“I’m convinced that the proposed changes for these two schools will disrupt the continuity of learning in each school. Both schools should be given their space, time and dedicated resources as they move in the right direction,” he said in an email, regarding Flushing and Newtown.
He added that a co-location, which would put a new school inside the same building as the one that currently exists, would overcrowd a school, or in the case of the two high schools, worsen their overcrowding problem, adding that programs that the schools offer may have to be cut if there are more students added.
“Both schools risk losing successful programs that are currently offered in each school. These desired programs are borough wide programs that are geared with student interests. When space becomes unavailable in the building, a building that is already over-utilized, the possibility of losing such programs becomes a reality,” Fedkowskyj said.
Beatrice Chapur, a school aid at Newtown High School for 22 years, said that Newtown does not need another school located within its confines, saying that there are other schools located where they are, on 90 Street off of Corona Avenue, and she is afraid that the new school will get more City funding than Newtown will.
“We don’t need another school, the students are very well served here,” she said. “We need one building with one school and one name.”
Fedkowskyj added that, while the DOE is taking an active approach by creating those proposals, he added that they are making unnecessary changes to those schools.
“I’m of the opinion that sometimes you just need to keep it simple. Creating unnecessary changes will just do more harm than good and we don’t get a second chance at educating our students,” he said.
James Vasquez, the Queens high school representative for the United Federation of Teachers, said that he believes the DOE and the City are only proposing these changes for political reasons and are not trying to help these schools. He added that schools like Flushing and Newtown were on the turnaround list last year, and while they were spared closure back then, they have not done anything to improve those schools since.
“This is a classic example of going for the second bite of the apple,” he said.
Two other high schools in Queens are proposed to be phased-out, the Business, Computer Applications and Entrepreneurship High School in Cambria Heights and the Magnet School of Law, Government and Community Service in Jamaica are on the DOE’s list to be closed.
Many residents who have kids who go to the Cambria Heights-based school protested the DOE’s proposal at a public meeting last week.
A DOE spokesperson said that their proposal to close schools is not one that they take lightly.
“Decisions to phase out schools are the most difficult we make, done only after a thorough and thoughtful review of a school’s performance. We feel that students will be served better with new options and a new start,” DOE spokeswoman Devon Puglia said.
As for the moratorium proposal, Fedkowskyj said that the reason he believes it should be adopted is to give more time to the teachers, students and parents more time and opportunity to hear the agency’s ideas and how it would improve student performance compared to how the school is now.
An example that he uses to talk about this is PS 140, another Jamaica school that is slated for closure. According to Fedkowskyj, that school has had four principals in the last two years and the current one has only been there since the middle of 2011. With that school being on the DOE’s closure list, he said that principal has not had enough time to fix the problems that the principal inherited, including budget problems that he said forced them to cut teachers, and closing it down would not help them.
“It is important to keep in mind that the situation at PS 140 didn’t happen over-night. The situation developed over time and nothing was done by the Mayor and DOE to recognize it and to fix it,” he said.
The moratorium was also sponsored by Kelvin Diamond, PEP’s Brooklyn Representative, Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan rep on the panel, and Robert Powell.
The amendment to the capital budget would bring millions of dollars to the City’s school system much sooner than anticipated if adopted. Fedkowskyj said that Queens will get 22 percent of the total budget and most will be used on projects to build new schools or extensions of existing schools.
According to a Queens Parental Advisory Board presentation from the DOE and the School Construction Authority, over 900 seats will be added throughout every district in the Borough because of the money that has been added.
The PEP will meet on Monday, March 11 at Brooklyn Technical High School at 29 Fort Greene Place in Brooklyn. It will start at 6 p.m.
Reach Reporter Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.