Woes Spell No Relief
School construction in Queens – the city’s most overcrowded borough — is taking some hard knocks.
City’s current fiscal troubles mean that plans for building new schools
throughout the City are being scaled back, despite the fact that last
December city school officials made cuts to an original capital plan that
was $2.4 billion short of delivering what it promised.
last year, the overcrowding situation called for high priority to be given
to Queens’ school construction. When all was said and done, a scaled-back
version of a plan called for either funding for construction or scope and
design in a total of 19 projects in Queens.
eleven of those projects were quietly postponed, earlier this month.
it all means is 5,000 fewer classroom spaces in a borough that is already
operating with 20,000 more students than it has seats for.
Nov. 7th, the City’s Independent Budget Office (IBO) released its
newsletter entitled “Inside The Budget.”
spelled out the trouble on the horizon for new school construction projects
to the IBO, the most recent school construction delays mark the second time
in under a year that the addition of new school seats has been pushed back.
amendments made to the school system’s capital plan in Dec. 2001, Queens
was slated to get a large share of new school projects – close to 60
percent of all projects city-wide.
the IBO said that roughly $595 million has been cut back from the $1.45
billion scheduled for capacity projects for the entire city in a revision
made December 2001.
Chancellor Joel Klein said during a public meeting of the Panel for
Educational Policy held at Long Island City High School, on Nov. 18
“My understanding is that those [schools] that are in progress will
be completed and there will be additional ones beyond that.
But it is, if you will, those additional ones that we will have to do
some rethinking [on].”
President Helen Marshall’s spokesperson Dan Andrews said the borough
president has called the school construction postponements “devastating”
said, “Queens is where the overcrowding is and should be where the money
also said that Marshall was interested in the “pecking order” of the
postponements especially concerning delays for projects in Community School
District 24 – the city’s most overcrowded school district.
what has been called an effort to help streamline the school construction
process, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Klein announced the merger of the School
Construction Authority (SCA) with the Dept. Of
Education’s (DOE) Division of School Facilities (DSF) in late
October at Astoria’s PS 234 .
too long, the construction of public schools has been plagued by
inefficiency, delay, and cost-overruns, hurting the quality of the City’s
schools while driving up their cost,” Bloomberg said. “Thanks to the
school governance reform achieved earlier this year, we have a great
opportunity to exact fundamental change in designing, building, and
repairing our public schools, and improving education in the City as a
whole. These reforms will help us infuse accountability in the construction
process, reduce costs while improving facilities, and relieve overcrowded
conditions in the schools.”
said the merger “will bring down school construction costs by creating
accountability within the new structure and by increasing the number of
competitive bidders engaged in the school construction process.”
the recent Panel for Educational Policy meeting held in Queens, DOE Deputy
Chancellor For Finance and Administration Kathleen Grimm said when asked
about the merger, “We don’t have a projection on that…But we will have
more information provided as we develop the plan,” she said.
said, “We hope to reduce the costs…and to stop what has really become a
lot of finger-pointing which has hurt the capital plan.
We’re looking to eliminate that and moving forward in a much more
to the Mayor’s Office, the merger hopes to create a clear line of
authority and accountability for the City’s school construction process
with a single entity overseeing all capital planning, budgeting, and
merger also hopes to cut costs by eliminating “duplicative and redundant
functions,” according to the Mayor’s Office.
addition the merger also will attempt to bring down the cost of construction
from its current $438 per square foot to $325 or less per square foot while
constructing and renovating high quality schools.
changes may be necessary to formalize some of the reforms, but according to
published reports the mayor has drummed up the necessary support to follow
through with the plan.
now defunct Board of Education’s (BOE) Division of School Facilities once
conducted all public school construction projects until 1988, when the state
legislature created the SCA.
the Moreland Commission, which was appointed by Governor George Pataki to
investigate the practices of the BOE and the SCA, found that the agencies
reported to separate boards and failed to establish an effective working
relationship and created a lack of accountability in school construction.
As a result, these large bureaucracies produced drastic cost over-runs and failed to alleviate overcrowding, according to the Mayor’s office.
office of New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum recently released a
report on school crowding in New York City.
report “describes current school overcrowding and the progress the school
system is making in building new seats.”
the Gotbaum report found that “overcrowding . . . has been a chronic
problem in New York City’s public school through most of the 1990s and
report cites high birth rates from the 1980s into the 1990s and increased
immigration for an “explosive” growth of enrollment.
report also stated that Queens had the worst overcrowding in the City with
four of its seven community school districts operating over capacity.
Queens is also where 50 percent of the city-wide need for additional seats is located.
Nov. 13, Bloomberg announced the latest changes for Fiscal Year (FY) 2003
and presented an updated four-year financial plan for New York City.
“There is no silver bullet to address the $7.5 billion budget shortfall facing the City over the next twenty months,” Bloomberg said. “By any standard, the magnitude of the deficit precludes any single measure from curing the entire problem without causing serious harm to New Yorkers. Taxes alone cannot bridge the shortfall, nor can the need be responsibly met solely through budget cuts.”
in financial plans for 2004 is $200 million in reductions to Dept. of Ed.
administration, purchasing, district and high school administration, a
teacher mentor program and summer camps.
to the Borough President’s spokesperson, “The Borough President is
doubtful that the mayor is on target, (with the proposed $200 million cut).
As a former teacher, the Borough President feels the cut will affect the
of Education spokesperson Kevin Ortiz said at the Nov. 18 meeting in Queens
that it is “way too early to tell” where cuts would be implemented if
the Mayor’s proposal for $200 million in cuts for education would be
to Ortiz, each district’s superintendent submitted budget crunching plans
last week, and the department is currently reviewing the submissions.
suggested that the impact of any type of cuts will be felt by school
administration, not in the classroom.
the idea is that the cuts the Mayor proposes—will be done administratively
and not take away from classrooms,” Ortiz said.
Marshall was not entirely convinced.
“They got to show me,” she told the Tribune, “They have
to show me that. You
can’t cut these numbers and not affect the classroom. That’s
Susan Lee contributed to this story