By Ronda Kaysen
State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has called for Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to apologize for his comments about funding cuts to two new Downtown schools and has called on the mayor to consider replacing him.
The mayor ought to seriously think about replacing the chancellor who outright lies, Silver told Downtown Express in a telephone interview Wednesday. I'm calling for him to apologize for speaking about what is clearly untrue.
Last month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that 21 city schools were being cut from the city's capital budget because of a lack of funding from the state and another 68 were in danger of being cut. The two Manhattan schools on the list, a K-8 planned for Beekman St. and a new annex for P.S. 234 in Tribeca, were part of an agreement between the community and developers signed by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and City Councilmember Alan Gerson. The agreement promised the schools in exchange for selling public land to private developers to build high rise residential developments and set aside $44 million in the Dept. of Education's capital budget for the Beekman school.
P.S. 234, the neighborhood's only zoned elementary school east of West St. is already at 120 percent capacity as the area braces for 13,000 new residential units in the next five years.
Klein told Downtown Express last week that the money was always dependent on state funding and the $44 million had been spent on other school projects. It's a written contract, he [Klein] is an attorney, he's setting a poor example for the children, said Silver. The best thing he can do is be silent when the mayor is playing a political game.
The schools' funding has been a characterized as a highly political fight between the city and the state. The state has failed to deliver a court ordered payout from a Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit of $5.6 billion a year in operational funds and a one-time payment of $9 billion in capital funds to city schools. The mayor also insists that the state's capital budget has not included Dept. of Education capital funding for the past two years, amounting to a $1.8 billion shortfall in the city's budget.
Chancellor Klein is as eager as Speaker Silver to have these schools built, said Stephen Morello, a Dept. of Ed. spokesperson, in response to Silver's comments. He said nothing that I'm aware of to contradict the agreement for Downtown development that includes the schools. He merely pointed out that the capital funding has always depended on a match from the state government.
The mayor has singled out Silver, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Governor George Pataki in his attacks. The schools Bloomberg selected are in key legislative districts, with the two Downtown schools sitting squarely in Silver's district. A source in the mayor's office told Downtown Express that the Downtown schools were selected to get Silver's attention. Originally, Bloomberg intended to cut funding for 23 schools, but shortly before the cuts were announced, the mayor pulled two Brooklyn schools from the list, and Silver pointed out they are in State Senator Martin Golden's district, a Republican who supported Bloomberg's bid for reelection.
Last week, Bruno described the judge's C.F.E. ruling as lunacy, indicating that he has no intentions of delivering the money. Bloomberg aides had previously hinted that the mayor, a Republican, might support Democratic Senate candidates to unseat Bruno. But the mayor appears to be making headway with Bruno, confirming earlier this week that he and the majority leader met privately to discuss the issue. He also indicated that he intends to support Bruno in his reelection bid.
Bloomberg will meet privately with Silver on Wednesday evening, the speaker told Downtown Express.
Silver met with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to discuss filing a lawsuit to halt the residential developments tied to the two Downtown schools. If the mayor is backing out of paying the contract price then the whole contract shouldn't go forward, he said.
The $64 million K-8 on Beekman St. will be housed in a 75-story mixed-use tower owned by developer Bruce Ratner. Silver negotiated the deal with Bloomberg and Ratner to secure the 98,000-sq. ft., 4-story site. Silver has been in discussions with Ratner to keep the space available.
He [Ratner] has the ability to push the school out of the property if there's no contract signed, said Silver. I have asked him to hold on and watch this play out. So far he has agreed. The question is how long will it play out?
We're continuing to work on the Beekman project and we're hopeful that things will work out with the school, said Michele de Milly, a spokesperson for Forest City Ratner, Bruce Ratner's development firm. The school issue has not yet impacted the construction schedule for the Frank Gehry designed building, which is slated to break ground next month.
Bloomberg recently backed away from focusing on the C.F.E. payout, which is still tied up in the courts. At a press conference last week, he stressed he was focusing on capital funds, not the C.F.E. funds. What 21 schools? Bloomberg asked a Downtown Express reporter in response to a question about the schools. 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 is capital funds, which has nothing to do with the C.F.E. lawsuit, he told reporters at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs on Houston St.
Silver thinks the mayor should focus his efforts to secure the C.F.E. funds. To this day, the mayor has refused to publicly ask the governor not to appeal the C.F.E. decision, said Silver. Two years ago, the state Assembly passed legislation in its budget to deliver $6.1 billion in operating aid and $1.3 billion in capital funds to the city. Neither the state Senate nor the governor supported the initiative and the mayor did not come out in support of the Assembly's initiative at the time.
The mayor was nowhere to be found to ratify their decision, said Silver. He doesn't want to recognize that he's a Johnny Come Lately.
Bloomberg is continuing his effort to rally the public behind his call for state funding, dispatching his supporters to the 19 community boards with schools on the chopping block.
Most New Yorkers don't hesitate to speak their mind, but if you want to find the most outspoken advocates in any given neighborhood, go to a community board meeting, said Stu Loeser, a spokesperson for the mayor, in a statement. Dep. Mayor Dennis Walcott will attend Community Board 1 meeting on March 21 at 6 p.m. at P.S. 89 on Warren and West Sts.
C.B. 1 is eager to have the opportunity to address the mayor's office. It's very important for him to hear directly from the parents, said C.B. 1 chairperson Julie Menin. Parents are very distressed about this issue.
With reporting by Lincoln Anderson