Downtown Express photos by Lorenzo Ciniglio
Hundreds of parents and children rallied outside City Hall Thursday to demand solutions for overcrowded schools. As they waited to go through security, students from P.S. 89, P.S. 234 and other Downtown schools held their posters high and chanted, ‘Stop overcrowding, build more schools!”
‘Build more schools’ Downtowners tell Bloomberg
By Julie Shapiro
On a hazy, humid afternoon that marked the last day of school, parents and elementary students had one final assignment before they scattered for summer vacation: Several hundred strong, they marched to City Hall to demand solutions for the overcrowding at P.S. 89, P.S. 234 and other local schools.
As they waited along Broadway to get into the plaza in front of City Hall, they waved posters and chanted, “Stop overcrowding, build more schools!” They magnified their voices with megaphones and their message with the sheer number of people who turned out. Red buttons showing stop signs adorned their T-shirts, strollers, backpacks and baseball caps.
But no one was wearing more than Connor Donigian, 6, who covered the front of his turquoise polo with 10 red buttons, which clinked like armor, and was in the process of attaching the 11th.
Connor had just finished the last day of first grade at P.S. 234 and wanted everyone to know that he was against school overcrowding. Why are overcrowded classes bad?
“Then people can’t learn and they can’t get smart,” he said firmly.
Linda Moutinho, Connor’s mother, has lived in Tribeca since 2000 but the overcrowding is making her seriously consider moving out of the city. Her younger son will enter kindergarten in September 2009, which looks like it will be the most crowded year for Downtown schools.
“I love the city and I don’t want to leave,” Moutinho said, “but I have to put my kids in front of that.”
Protestors from P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 met in P.S. 234’s schoolyard to march over to City Hall, where they joined parents from schools as far away as the Upper West Side and Brooklyn. As the parents strode along Warren St., pushing strollers and chanting, several people came out of The Park Preschool to applaud.
The crowd reformed outside of City Hall, where everyone continued to chant, making noise with their voices, a tambourine and even an overturned bucket and drumstick.
In the very front, chanting at the top of their lungs, were Camille O’Keefe and Miriam Helene Rudd, who just finished third grade at P.S. 116.
Camille, 8, said her school is too crowded, with more than 25 kids in a class.
“People are not learning what they’re supposed to learn,” she said. “We need to help the teachers. The teachers are like, ‘Ahh!’” she shrieked, raising her hands to her cheeks to demonstrate.
Rudd, 8, agreed, saying her class was disorganized because there were so many people.
Like their parents, the kids have heard a lot about the one potential overcrowding solution that no one likes: busing fifth graders to other schools.
“I think that’s horrible,” said Esmee Greenfeld, 9, who just finished third grade at P.S. 234. “I don’t think any fifth graders should be kicked out of schools. It’s rude. I think they should build more schools instead of more buildings.”
On the steps of City Hall, as elected officials spoke, parents waved posters reading “Bloomberg flunked as education mayor!” and “Kids before stadiums.” The children held smaller signs that said “We are your future” and “ABCDEFG, will there be a seat for me?” One neon yellow sign asked simply, “WHY?”
It was a word that State Sen. Martin Connor picked up in a rousing speech that demanded the city fund education. Shouting and gesturing broadly, he criticized the mayor for planning new residential buildings without thinking about schools.
“Why, why, why are you in charge of our schools?” he said. “It’s time for a change next year. It’s time for a system that gives a voice to the community.” The time for mayoral control of education, Connor said, is over.
Daniel Squadron, Connor’s opponent in the September Democratic primary, attended the rally and said he favored renewing mayoral control of the schools, but giving parents and the community a stronger voice.
The main target of the protests, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, came down the City Hall steps as the rally was gearing up. About 30 parents and kids from P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 walked in his direction, chanting, “Stop overcrowding, build more schools!”
Bloomberg smiled briefly as he passed, but he did not stop or comment, just walked toward his SUV and got in.
“He didn’t pay attention to us. That sucks. He should have said ‘hi’ to the kids,” said Patricia Orlando, whose child just finished first grade at P.S. 89. She’s worried about the overcrowding.
While Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein did not respond formally to the rally, P.S. 89 parents heard the city’s informal response loud and clear Wednesday morning when they arrived at the school and saw that their large banners decrying overcrowding had disappeared. At first they assumed it was a random act of vandalism, but a janitor said he received an e-mail from the city telling him to take the banners down, said Anne Albright, the incoming president of the P.S. 89 P.T.A.
“If he got mad, great,” said Nicki Francis, a P.S. 234 parent, referring to Klein. “He should work harder doing his job.”
Ed Johnson, a United Federation of Teachers member who advises P.S./I.S. 89 teachers, thinks the angry parents’ message is finally getting to the chancellor.
“The D.O.E. is in turtle mode,” Johnson said. “They’re hiding in their shell.”
With reporting by Josh Rogers