EXCLUSIVE: Downtown pols join forces to save school task force

Sheldon Silver, at right, presides over a 2013 meeting of the School Overcrowding Task Force next to then-Chancellor Dennis Walcott. Two years and one corruption conviction later, Downtowners are worried about the fate of his signature panel.

Sheldon Silver, at right, presides over a 2013 meeting of the School Overcrowding
Task Force next to then-Chancellor Dennis Walcott. Two years and one corruption
conviction later, Downtowners are worried about the fate of his signature panel.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC |

The elected officials championing the newly re-formed School Overcrowding Task Force are calling on Dept. of Education and School Construction Authority officials to attend an upcoming meeting of the panel in January.

In a Dec. 23 letter addressed to Chancellor Carmen Fariña of the D.O.E. and Lorraine Grillo, president of the S.C.A., the five elected officials requested department officials “participation” in the task force’s next meeting.

Last week, Borough President Gale Brewer announced that she and Councilwoman Margaret Chin would take over the task force left rudderless after the conviction last month of Sheldon Silver.

Brewer said it would be a joint effort that includes state Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Deborah Glick at an interview with Community News Group, this paper’s parent company. Congressman Jerrold Nadler also signed the letter and will help lead the panel.

A date has not been set for the meeting.

Last week, a D.O.E. spokeswoman would not say whether or not D.O.E. and S.C.A. officials would continue to attend future meetings if the task force continues.

Silver, the former Speaker of the Assembly who represented Lower Manhattan for nearly 40 years, lent his considerable power to the task force, made up of Downtown school advocates and principals.

The panel tackled problems such as waitlists, and pressed for new schools to serve the surging population of Lower Manhattan, but Silver’s conviction last month of seven counts of extortion, fraud and money laundering had locals worried whether it could go on without him.

“I think we need to fill that little power vacuum that’s going to be happening in our community,” said Jeff Mihok at Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 8. “I feel there’s obviously a massive loss of clout with the Speaker’s, you know…”

That was the closest anyone came during the lengthy discussion of the task force’s fate to explicitly mentioning Silver conviction on federal corruption charges. Instead, the focus was on who would take up the mantle of the task force and whether it could ever be as effective as it was under the former powerbroker.

“The School Overcrowding Task Force was very successful,” said Paul Goldstein, who worked for Silver for many years. “It was successful for a wide range of reasons: the Speaker being able to get the people that needed to be there around the table working closely with you guys. We had a formula that worked well. It may be difficult to replicate.”

As one of the three most powerful men in the state, Silver was able to get key Dept. of Education and School Construction Authority officials to the task force’s meetings. The panel successfully pushed to build Spruce Street School, P.S/I.S. 276 and Peck Slip School, which opened this year.

Silver continued leading the task force even after his federal indictment in January. At its April meeting, he was greeted with applause.

Paul Hovitz, the committee’s co-chairman, pointed out that CB1 had its own school-overcrowding task force before Silver started his in 2008, but the former Assembly Speaker’s panel commanded more attention from the powers that be.

“Of course, no one got the kind of response from the D.O.E. and from other interested parties as did Shelly,” said Hovitz, using Silver’s nickname.

Committee chairwoman Tricia Joyce said she thinks the D.O.E. would continue to “engage” with the task force if it found a new political sponsor.

Now that the task force has leadership and will continue, its first priority when it reconvenes will be the 456-seat elementary school that the D.O.E. budgeted for in the capital plan two years ago, but has yet to find a site for.

 

 

 

 

 

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