Volume 21, Number 12 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 1 - 7, 2008
Downtown Express photo by Jefferson Siegel
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (center) met with Councilmembers Robert Jackson (left) and Daniel Garodnick (right) last Thursday at a roundtable discussion in Chelsea on school overcrowding.
Quinn: Council, developers need role in school planning
By Julie Shapiro
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants the City Council to replace the State Legislature as the decision-maker regarding the city’s public schools, she said at a roundtable discussion about education last week in Chelsea.
Under mayoral control, the Department of Education answers to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the State Legislature, giving the Council little information about the D.O.E. and even less power over them, Quinn said. When negotiating the city budget this year, Quinn, Chelsea’s representative on the Council, had trouble getting data about how the D.O.E. spends money.
The speaker called the D.O.E.’s budget “the opposite of transparency” and said that the city Office of Management and Budget shares her frustrations.
Quinn spoke at the roundtable Thursday at the Moonstruck Diner on 23rd St. and Ninth Ave., across the street from her apartment. City Councilmembers Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson and Daniel Garodnick also attended.
Quinn expressed her support for the State Legislature to renew mayoral control of education when it expires in June 2009, but she wants the City Council to have a larger role, too. After all, she said, members of the Council know the local schools and neighborhoods better than small towns Upstate.
“Pitcher Hill doesn’t know what we need in Inwood,” Quinn said.
While Quinn wants Bloomberg to retain control of the schools, she obliquely criticized his tactics during this year’s budget negotiations. The mayor decided earlier this year to cut city education funding, hoping to use money from the state instead, even though the state money was supposed to go primarily to low-performing schools. Bloomberg wanted to spread the state money across both low and high-performing schools, and he said that if the state would not agree to that, high-performing schools could face budget cuts of 4 to 5 percent.
“The debate seemed to devolve into pitting children against each other,” Quinn said at the roundtable. “We wanted low-performing schools to get what they needed, but we didn’t want a revolving door of high-need schools.”
The speaker ultimately brokered a compromise that restored $129 million to the city’s schools, giving each one at least the same amount of classroom funding they had this year.
During the discussion, Quinn also fielded questions on school overcrowding, which has become a hot topic in Lower Manhattan. Borough President Scott Stringer released a report called “Crowded Out” earlier this year, blaming the city for not proactively planning for the influx of families moving into new residential developments. PS 116 in Murray Hill was name-checked as one specific school in need, as it is currently 125 percent overcapacity with 40 new buildings that have either gone up or started construction in the area.
The solution, Quinn said, is to change the way the city does land-use planning. Currently, communities only receive amenities from developers if activists and elected officials push for them, the speaker said.
“It’s piecemeal,” she added. “It’s project-by-project.”
If the community is not informed and active, or if the developer is particularly stubborn, the community can wind up with nothing, Quinn said.
Instead, she wants developers to automatically contribute to the city’s infrastructure during the land-use review, or ULURP, process. In order to get approval for their buildings, developers would have to help mitigate the impact of those buildings not just on schools, but also on transportation and police and fire stations.
Quinn hopes to include this requirement in the city charter revisions, which will likely appear on the ballot in November 2009. She is optimistic that developers will agree to help build the city’s infrastructure, because it is in their interest to invest in strong neighborhoods.
“When schools go down [because of overcrowding], property values go down,” Quinn said. “I believe developers will likely be our allies.”