Returning to evermore crowded classrooms
More Downtown children will be starting school next week compared to last year. Were not surprised. With the possible exception of 2002, the same thing has happened every year for as long as we can remember. Lower Manhattan remains the fastest growing part of the city and the percentage of families within the Downtown population is also increasing. Thats the good news.
You dont have to know new math to understand that more children need more school seats and more must be done. The city has begun to recognize the problem. Construction is underway on a school annex for Downtowns most overcrowded school, P.S. 234 in Tribeca. Over the school annex will be more apartments with more families and more students. Residential construction continues all over Lower Manhattan.
Construction has not yet begun on the 600-seat, K-8 planned for Beekman St., and the opening has been pushed back a year until 2009. That means another three years, as opposed to two, of increasingly overcrowded schools. There is no joy in being a Cassandra, so we are truly sorry to say that we were right when we said in February that Mayor Bloombergs reprehensible Beekman school funding delay threatened to set back the opening by a year, even if the project were to be held up only for a few months.
Bloomberg let his deputy mayor, Dan Doctoroff, sign a document promising $44 million for the Beekman school in exchange for City Council and community support for two large Tribeca development projects. But then after the mayor got approval, he let his schools chancellor, Joel Klein, spend the money elsewhere, and they used Beekman as one of the bargaining chips to get more school money from Albany. A Klein spokesperson told us in July that the Albany battle forced officials to push back the school opening.
It was a noble goal to go after the citys fair share, but the effort could have been successful without reneging on the signed deal for Beekman and the annex.
When the new schools do finally open, they will go a long way to relieving the overcrowding problem, but they may not be enough. One need only look at the bulging preschools and the continued residential development to understand that. There will be a particular need for more middle-school seats and it may make sense to build more than is currently planned in Beekman.
A new middle school at the World Trade Center site, as has been suggested by Community Board 1, should be pursued. Building a school at the site is one of the ideas that was mentioned repeatedly at W.T.C. public forums a few years ago, and the reason is obvious education and knowledge must be one part of the response to the evil of 9/11.
Just like the students who will begin to learn new lessons next week, the mayor has only begun to solve the school space problem Downtown, and they all have many more things to accomplish.