Volume 18 • Issue 42 | March 3 - 9, 2006

Downtown Express file photo by Elisabeth Robert

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein stood behind Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver last February to announce a new school on Beekman St. Klein said Tuesday he knew at the time the project was not possible without additional state money.

Beekman school was always in doubt, Klein says

By Ronda Kaysen

The $44 million promised for a new school on Beekman St. has been spent on other projects and funding for the school was always conditional on money from Albany, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said Tuesday.

In a telephone interview with Downtown Express, Klein defended the mayor’s policy to halt funding for 21 Dept. of Education capital construction projects, including two schools in Lower Manhattan — a new K-8 on Beekman St. and a new annex for P.S. 234 in Tribeca.

“The plan was always contingent on full funding [from Albany]. The funding for Beekman is just not there,” said Klein. “We made all of this clear — a portion of this was always dependent on the state.”

Critics of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan say the two schools were never dependant upon state funding. In a 2004 agreement among the community, the city and developers, the city agreed to sell public land to private developers for high-rise residential developments in exchange for the two schools and other amenities.

The new school and annex would have alleviated crowding at P.S. 234, the only zoned elementary school for the entire neighborhood east of West St. and south of Canal St.

On Thursday, Bloomberg told Downtown Express that he was confident that all of the schools on the chopping block including the two Downtown will get funding.

"What 21 schools?" Bloomberg asked a Downtown Express reporter at an appearance at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs on Houston St. "I think you'll find that the state will come along with the funding and do the right thing."

Bloomberg said the funding for these schools should come from the state, not the city, and that since the state budget is not finalized yet, there's still time for this money to be included.

Asked about the ties the school projects have to the Tribeca development deals, the mayor didn't answer the question directly, but focused on the need for the state to put up the money.

He stressed he was talking about capital funds, not the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit, which seeks to force the state to give the city more education funds. The lawsuit, Bloomberg said, will see another decision in a few months; but whichever side wins will appeal, meaning the process could drag on for a few more years, he noted.

"What we're talking about here has nothing to do with the C.F.E. lawsuit," he told Downtown Express. "What we're talking about here is capital funds, which has nothing to do with the C.F.E. lawsuit."

In Feb. 2005, Bloomberg stood with Klein and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in Klein’s headquarters to announce the site for the 630-seat Beekman school — inside a 75-story mixed use Bruce Ratner development. At the time, Bloomberg said in a statement, “Building this new school fulfills a promise we have made to the residents of Lower Manhattan.”

The 2004 agreement, signed by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and City Councilmember Alan Gerson, pledged $44 million from the Dept. of Ed. capital budget, contingent upon $25 million from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. The L.M.D.C. delivered the city $20 million for the school last year and Ratner said then that he would cover any cost overruns over $64 million.

Downtown Express photo by Robert Stolarik

Some students rallying for more education money carried pictures of Joel Klein outside a Panel for Educational Policy meeting in Brooklyn Monday.

But according to Klein, the money was always dependent upon state funding, a claim both Silver and Gerson hotly dispute.

“That is absolutely untrue,” said Eileen Larrabee, a spokesperson for Silver. “If you look at the famed Gerson letter, it states very clearly that it was in the capital plan. It was never part of any conversation.”

“When Dan Doctoroff signed that agreement, there was never any mention or any statement or any contingency or any linkage to state money,” said Gerson. “The agreement is in black and white.”

The mayor cut funding to the 21 schools in an effort to step up pressure on Albany to deliver a court-ordered payment of $5.6 billion in operating expenses and a one-time payment of $9 billion in capital expenses. An official in the mayor’s office requesting anonymity said the Downtown schools were picked to pressure Silver to step up his involvement in the State Assembly.

“The mayor wanted to get this noticed. When you put Shelly Silver in the room, he gets noticed,” Community Board 1 member Paul Hovitz said at a public meeting Tuesday night.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno escalated the rhetoric, calling the court order “lunacy” and telling a group of upstate and Long Island mayors that the Senate had no intention of delivering the payments, which he said would result in a state tax hike.

Klein told Downtown Express that the $44 million earmarked for the Beekman School has been spent on other school projects. “That money has been dedicated to projects that are ongoing…. We’ve bought buildings, we’ve bought sites, we’re spending money on development. When we were faced with the reality that we didn’t have the additional money, then we had to prioritize,” he said.

Funding or not, the community is still moving forward with planning out the new $64 million Beekman School. At a Community Board 1 Youth and Education Committee meeting Tuesday night, board members discussed how to zone the school and whether it should be structured as a K-8 or as a separate K-5 elementary school and 6-8 middle school.

“We are here to talk about the catchment area for a school that we are confident will get built. If we weren’t, it wouldn’t be on the agenda,” said Hovitz, who leads the committee, adding that Dept. of Ed. executive director of intergovernmental affairs Terrence Tolbert assured him in a private meeting that the schools would be built. “He said it would cost us more in a lawsuit than it would in a build out,” Hovitz said.

Board members agreed that the Beekman School should be zoned for C.B. 1 —the area south of Canal St. river to river. “Clearly we are the ones that fought for the new school,” said C.B. 1 district manager Paul Goldstein. “All the new development is in our district.”

The committee drafted a resolution to zone the new school for C.B. 1, with priority given to children living east of Broadway. It also added that the neighborhood’s existing elementary schools — P.S. 234, P.S. 89 and P.S. 150 — should be zoned for the entire area, with priority given to children in the immediate neighborhood. Battery Park City kids would be given priority for P.S. 89; children east of West St. and west of Broadway would be given priority for P.S. 234; and P.S. 150, an option school, would be open to kids in the entire neighborhood.

“The best thing we could do for local parents is give them a choice, choice is what people want,” said Goldstein.

P.S. 150 principal Maggie Siena was reluctant to support restricting the student body of her tiny, 150-student school to C.B. 1. “It’s hard for me to imagine how it would work,” she said. “This school has benefited from having kids from all over the city.” P.S. 150 gives preference to children living in C.B. 1, but accepts kids from all over District 2, which includes most of Lower Manhattan, the Village, Chelsea and part of the Upper East Side. “I don’t know how aware people are about the limits of space that the school has.”

The board was less certain about how to structure the new school, with some members voicing a preference for a K-8 structure and others supporting a separated elementary and middle school, similar to P.S./I.S. 89 in Battery Park City.

Klein has publicly voiced his support for a K-8 structured school. “I’ve seen the plans for the Beekman school. It has been designed as a K-8,” said Hovitz.

When the Beekman school was announced last year, Klein said it would be a continuous K-8, but Tuesday he told Downtown Express that he is open to different ideas. “We’re engaging in community outreach,” he said. “It’s very, very early in the process obviously; I hope we’ll be meeting with the community.”

With reporting by Lincoln Anderson



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