Volume 18, Number 50 | April 28 - May 4, 2006

Pataki signs deal to allow school construction

By Ronda Kaysen

Governor George Pataki signed legislation Monday providing capital funding for New York City schools, paving the way for the city to build two new elementary schools Downtown.

Last month, the state Legislature reached an agreement to deliver $6.5 billion in state capital funds to New York City, providing $1.8 billion in aid this year and another $4.7 billion over five year. The city will contribute the other half of the $13.1 billion capital plan, most of which will be financed through the New York City Transitional Finance Authority.

“This new record state construction aid will allow New York City to modernize and improve our schoolchildren’s learning environment,” Pataki said in a statement.

Bloomberg had threatened to cut funding for 21 new schools and delay construction for another 68 if the state did not fund half of the capital construction plan. Among the schools on the list were a new 600-seat elementary school planned for the East Side of Lower Manhattan, known as the Beekman School and a new 150-seat annex for P.S. 234, a Tribeca elementary school. P.S. 234, which serves all of Downtown east of West St., is currently at 120 percent capacity and will have to close its science room next year to make room for the booming school age population.

“Parents across the city want new schools in their neighborhoods, but the plain facts were that there just wasn’t enough money for them – until this morning,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

Pataki has long resisted increasing funding to city schools. He has appealed a lawsuit by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, a parent and advocate organization, that maintains that city schools have been consistently shortchanged in state education funding. The courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of C.F.E.

But this month he indicated that he would not block the schools funding legislation, although he did veto tax cuts in the state budget, igniting a standoff with state lawmakers.

“We put the pressure on him in the way we crafted it [the legislation] that he couldn’t reject it,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver told Downtown Express in a telephone interview. The two Downtown schools that Bloomberg had threatened to delay are in Silver’s district. The capital funding package also includes money for upstate schools, sweetening the deal for upstate critics of C.F.E., who insist the city gets enough state money. “The pressure was on a statewide basis. He could not veto it… He would lose whatever public support he had if he took this out,” said Silver.

Bloomberg’s stance on schools funding galvanized Downtown parents who organized a rally on the steps of City Hall and protested outside a groundbreaking for a residential development that was tied to the two new schools. The community had won the Downtown schools when the city sold public land to private developers to build high-rise residential developments. Local residents agreed to taller buildings in exchange for the schools. The written agreement, signed by Dep. Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, said nothing about the schools being contingent on state funding. A source in the mayor’s office told Downtown Express that the two schools were chosen to pressure Silver to deliver the funds.

“We were just very frustrated that this whole debacle even had to happen and had to put parents and families through these anxious months and days,” said Community Board 1 chairperson Julie Menin.

Some people Downtown, however, were simply pleased to see an end to the political brouhaha. “Yay! I am very, very happy,” said P.S. 234 principal Sandy Bridges. With the annex slated to open in the fall of 2007, Bridges says that the science room will only close for one school year. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel for us.”

Construction on the Beekman school and the Frank-Gehry-designed residential building was supposed to have begun in April and the school opening is scheduled for 2008, but developer Bruce Ratner has not yet released renderings of the building.

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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