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BY JOSH ROGERS | [Updated with a statement from the Dept. of Education and Speaker Silver's full statement] The city acknowledged Wednesday that Lower Manhattan needs at least two more schools, according to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“I am thrilled that all of the hard work we are doing on my School Overcrowding Task Force has once again resulted in a plan for new schools in our Lower Manhattan community,” Silver said in an email to Downtown Express, June 12. “Today’s announcement by the Dept. of Education that 1,000 new elementary school seats are needed in Lower Manhattan is a tremendous victory for our local families.”
The announcement means that the city would include the Downtown school needs in its five-year capital plan this fall.
According to Silver’s office, the capital budget should be passed this year, which would mean it would be approved before someone succeeded Mayor Bloomberg. The city would still have to find the money to fund its next capital budget.
Devon Puglia, a D.O.E. spokesperson, did not confirm the details in Silver’s statement, but he did say the city was trying to find more school space in Lower Manhattan.
“We are working closely with this community to address the growth in elementary students and to look to the future,” Puglia wrote in an email, June 12. “Today we shared preliminary data, and we look forward to continuing to work with the task force.”
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott had given Silver and Downtown school advocates hope two months ago when he said he wanted his school planners to take a “deeper dive” into the “pockets” of Lower Manhattan that have had unparalleled population growth.
Some of the advocates were disappointed at the next followup meeting in which Dept. of Education officials backed off from Walcott’s words and said the city would continue to analyze school needs along broader geographic lines.
Technically, the 1,000 seats could be placed as far north as the West Village, but given the perennial school overcrowding problems south of Canal St., and the fact that the D.O.E. announcement came after being presented with population analyses done by Community Board 1 and parent advocates, it is far more likely that one or both of the new schools would be further Downtown.
Eric Greenleaf, one of the advocates and an N.Y.U. professor who has closely analyzed Downtown birth rates and school needs, estimates that Lower Manhattan needs another 1,200 seats. This is the first time since he has been doing this analysis that the D.O.E.’s estimates comes close to matching his own.
The D.O.E.’s estimates in recent years have not been accurate. P.S. 234 in Tribeca, for example, has had waiting lists five years in a row.
Here’s the full text of Speaker Silver’s statement:
“I am thrilled that all of the hard work we are doing on my School Overcrowding Task Force has once again resulted in a plan for new schools in our Lower Manhattan community. Today’s announcement by the Department of Education that 1,000 new elementary school seats are needed in Lower Manhattan is a tremendous victory for our local families. Through the work of my Task Force, we have succeeded in building several new excellent schools for our growing community and now that work will continue. We have made such incredible strides in rebuilding this community and one of the most important reasons that record numbers of residents are moving into this area is our high quality schools. I want to thank Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott for listening to our community and responding to its urgent need for more school seats. Now it is essential that we make sure the funding is allocated to build the new schools as part of the Department of Education’s upcoming capital plan.”