BY JOSH ROGERS | In what may be his first public comment since being forced to give up his leadership post in Albany, Assemblymember Sheldon Silver told Downtown Express Thursday that the Lower Manhattan School Overcrowding Task Force that he set up seven years ago will continue.
“School overcrowding and ensuring children are able to thrive in our schools remains a top priority, and the Task Force will continue its work under my leadership,” Silver, the former Assembly speaker, said in a prepared statement to the Express Feb. 12. “I and my staff will continue to serve our community, providing high level constituent services and making sure we have the resources we need in order for our neighborhoods to remain vibrant.”
Since last month when he lost his speaker’s position in the face of accusations from U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara that Silver of pocketed nearly $4 million in a series of crimes that amounted to trading on his power, it has been unclear how he would continue to serve as speaker. He did not send a representative to last week’s Community Board 1 meeting as he has usually does.
Silver’s task force, which includes principals generated citywide headlines four yeas ago as the setting of Schools Chancellor Cathie Black’s infamous joke about birth control which led to her resignation soon after her hiring, but it is better known to Downtown school advocates and parents as the place to get timely information about kindergarten waiting lists and to press the case to the Dept. of Education to build more schools.
The advocates and Silver played a leading role in finding the sites for the three Lower Manhattan elementary schools that have opened in the the last six years — P.S./I.S. 276, Spruce Street and Peck Slip schools — and got the D.O.E. to open them early in “incubator” space in its Tweed headquarters.
The need for more schools was clear to Downtowners but not always to the city. Census numbers show the C.B. 1 preschool population grew by 170 percent from 2000 – 2010 and that the overall population grew almost four times faster than all other community boards in the city, according to an analysis done by the community board.