By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Over the past two weeks, this paper has focused on the New York
City Board of Educations Capital Plan in order to determine how the severe
overcrowding in Queens schools would be remedied.
Last week we itemized the major projects
on the present school construction drawing board likely to survive a projected $2.4
billion budget shortage. The Bd. of Ed. had the unenviable position of having to approve
cuts of about a third of all projects.
Chancellor Levy stepped up to the plate and put forth the list based on
need. Assessing overcrowding by borough and district, the chancellor selected 24 of the 32
proposed schools ranking them in order of need. The eight top schools (and 11 of the top
12) were in Queens. In fact 14 of the 24 surviving projects, are slated for our borough.
The reason; need. Queens has been the fastest growing borough and therefore the most
The schools that did not make the list will be designed and moved onto
the future five-year plan for when funding exists.
Get used to
seeing them. In one of their first quasi-official appearances, Queens Council
in festivities at the Hall of Science last Friday. The 14 new Council members-elect will
help guide the City beginning January 1. The
eight photographed by Bill Brent are: (top to bottom) Melinda Katz, David Weprin, Leroy
Comrie, Tony Avella, Hiram Monserratte, Alan Jennings, Helen Sears,
Peter Vallone, Jr.
The past several weeks have seen Queens Board of Education member
Terri Thomson quietly build a consensus to insure that the limited funding be distributed
by need. Terri and Chancellor Levy held the coalition together in spite of the fact that
one of the Citys five boroughs was to receive a disproportionately huge share of the
How did they do it?
Simple, it was the correct thing. It wasnt political, it was
ethically and morally correct. It was based on need. Where was there the greatest shortage
Where were schools most overused? Queens. Build to fix it.
And it seemed the Board agreed. The Chancellor and Terri and the other
Board members were operating for the good of the citys kids.
And on the night before last Fridays vote, the Mayor jumped in.
Playing politics and hardball, once again he tried to undo weeks of thoughtful
deliberations and negotiations by a well-meaning Chancellor and Board. The consensus was
gone and Giuliani appointee, Board President Ninfa Segarra switched her position and again
politicized the educational process. The Mayor wanted a school built in Staten Island and
was prepared to throw the system into turmoil to get it. The fact that Staten Island had
the least overcrowding in the City and the district in question was near the bottom of the
list in need apparently meant less to
the Mayor and his cronies than some political deal or payback.
We wont speculate that it was payback for outgoing Staten Island
Beep Republican Guy Molinaris support and the boroughs overwhelming backing of
Giuliani at the voting booth.
We just know that Rudy and company,
were trying to sacrifice equity and
education for politics and power.
The Board coalition held. Chancellor Levy, Queens Board member Terri
Thomson and the members from Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn are to be congratulated for
not yielding to the Mayoral barrage.
The Chancellor (and Im sure Terri) did have to play politics to
build and keep the four-vote majority. The New York Times reported this weekend
that the Chancellor was able to utilize $70 million in funds just approved by the City
Council to provide money for renovation and leasing of a new Manhattan High School and
renovation of a landmark Bronx school. We dont have enough information to determine
if this was the best expenditure of the funds or necessary glue to hold the entire deal
The question does illustrate the downside of politics mixing into
education. Schools should be built because of need, not because of deals. Board members
should be independent, casting votes for the good of the kids of New York City, not to
establish or reward a voting block in one borough.
Helen Marshall, Queens Borough President-elect; Adolfo Carrion, Bronx
Beep-elect, and Virginia Fields, Manhattan Beep have indicated their intention to appoint
themselves to the Board of Education when the present members terms expire in July. The
City Corporation Council has raised the question as to the legality of such moves; the
Mayor claims there is a loophole. We think the question is much more significant than the
legal interpretation of the City Charter.
We have twice seen the relationship between Queens Board members and
Borough President Claire Shulman degenerate into near wars over the Mayors
politicizing Board of Education issues. Both times the courageous Queens members stood up
to political pressure and did the right thing for the kids education. Once Carol
Gresser opposed Rudys choice for Chancellor then Terri Thomson opposed his choice
for Board President. We do not know what Queens project or promises he used to coerce
Queens Beep Shulman into opposing and castigating her appointees. Those appointees
according to the Charter are independent. They are there to serve education not politics.
Would Borough Presidents sitting on the B of E be more or less likely
to play politics?
"Hey, you back the funding of the new subway stop in my borough
and Ill vote for your choice for chancellor." Or, "appoint my friend and
contributor to a Mayoral Authority and I can vote your choice for Board Pres."
Perhaps, "Ill take a new minor league ball park and give up four schools."
Is that all conjecture?
You bet it is!
Ive known Helen Marshall for years. She is honorable. However,
the issues she must deal with are greater than education. And perhaps, to win a different
battle, shell have to give in on one at the Board of Education level.
Shouldnt the Board member be immune from such pressures? Should
the Board of Ed. consider only our children and their education?
I dont think Borough Presidents can exclude everything else from
Board of Ed. dealings.
Furthermore, the Board of Ed., according to Thomson, is almost a
full-time job. Carol Gresser, tells me me she logged 50 hours a week as a member, more as
president. And the first Board of Ed. member appointed from Queens way back in the mid
60s was my uncle, Murray Bergtraum. I remember him telling me theres little
time for anything else.
Being borough president is more than a fulltime job. Just ask Claire
Shulman. Both she and her predecessor, Donald Manes, devoted just about every waking hour
to the job. It takes 60, 80, 100 or more hours a week to do the job right.
In addition to the problem of politicizing the Board of Ed., there is
not enough time to be both borough president and board member.
Just count the hours. Do the math. I mastered the subject in the New
York City school system. Back then before the present Board, it was unparalleled. It had
the finest educators and produced the finest students and didnt know from politics.
Maybe we should look to the past to understand the solutions of the
Joseph Brent was born in March 1987, has lived all of his 14 years in
He has played ball for the Dwarf Giraffes, St. Lukes
Athletic Association, St. Mels, and is currently in the Basketball program with the
Joseph Brent, Beechurst
Sinatra High School
However, it was his music that
brought him to the Hall of Science last Friday and brought us this picture of him and the
Joes father, Bill Brent has been a
longtime Trib photographer and friend. Bills pictures first appeared in the
paper almost 30 years ago. The popular new QConfidential feature, Models of Queens,
is Bills brainchild.
Bill emailed us the pictures below of seven
of the new Council members-elect, who appeared at last Fridays Hall of Science
"passing on the torch" cermeonies.
His son Joe was the the sole representative
from Queens Frank Sinatra High School for the Arts student population to be invited.
Joes musical interests range from
opera to punk youre just as likely to catch him listening to Mario Lanza
a one time Beechhurst boy as you are to Blink 182.
While attending PS 193, he performed on the
clarinet at the opening of the new Flushing Library. Since then he has focused on the bass
and guitar. After two years at JHS 194 he was accepted to the three private high schools
to which he applied, but when he learned there would be a new arts school and one
named after one of his rat pack favorites to boot he put in his application and was
accepted for both vocal and drama.
The Sinatra school promised everything the
established high schools had, plus a major focus on the arts. While he continued his
studies on the bass and guitar, the school has helped bring out his rich baritone voice
and has made him a featured soloist with the schools choral group.
In what little spare time he has left he
pursues another passion, that of photography. Each Tuesday he works in an apprentice
program in Manhattan.
The school system may be troubled, but it
can still produce results!
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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