Bill introduced to prevent school overcrowding
By Julie Shapiro
Hoping to prevent the school overcrowding that has plagued Lower Manhattan for years, State Sen. Daniel Squadron introduced legislation this week to increase the Dept. of Education’s accountability.
“We’ve all seen the effects of what happens when the process is off,” Squadron told Downtown Express. “Better data, more transparency and a stronger voice for the community would go a long way toward improving the process.”
Squadron was particularly concerned about the city’s recent rezoning of Downtown’s schools, a divisive process that did not come close to solving the overcrowding problem at P.S. 234 in Tribeca. The D.O.E. did not use any population data or projections to draft the new school zone lines, but rather just looked at current kindergarten and first-grade numbers. That method did not work, and far more children wound up zoned for P.S. 234 than the school could fit. As of last month, P.S. 234 had received 186 applications for 125 kindergarten seats.
Squadron’s legislation would require the D.O.E. to use birth-rate data from the city Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene and population projections from the Dept. of City Planning for all rezonings and five-year capital plans. The D.O.E. would also have to make those population numbers public and explain how the city’s plans would meet the demand for seats. Finally, under Squadron’s legislation, the D.O.E. would have to publish all comments received on zoning proposals and five-year capital plans and would have to respond to those comments. The D.O.E. currently only has to do that in relation to school sitings.
“It’s a great first step,” said Tricia Joyce, a P.S. 234 parent and activist. During the recent rezoning, Joyce consistently called for the D.O.E. to release its population data, and she said Squadron’s legislation would be helpful.
But Joyce said she was concerned about how the new measures would be enforced. She said the D.O.E. has a history of not providing information and not including the Community Education Councils in zoning and school closing decisions.
“Even though they’re required [by law] to divulge it, you have to sue them to get it,” Joyce said, referring to the lawsuit the District 2 Community Education Council filed against the D.O.E.
Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, D.O.E. spokesperson, said the office would review the bill, but he implied he didn’t think a change was needed. He added that the School Construction Authority already works closely with the Depts. of Health and City Planning to review data and make sure new school seats are built in the neighborhoods that need them.
“The S.C.A. is proud of the robust, transparent process in place,” Zarin-Rosenfeld said in an e-mail to Downtown Express.
Squadron’s legislation partly came out of meetings he held with local parent activists in the wake of the mayoral control debate last year. Some parents see the current school system as irreparable and were upset that Squadron sponsored the bill to renew the mayor’s control of the city’s schools. Squadron said this week that his new legislation would add more transparency and parental input.
Squadron introduced the legislation into the Senate on Monday, one day after announcing his proposals at a press conference in front of P.S. 234 with Borough President Scott Stringer and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh. The bill does not yet have a sponsor in the Assembly.