Volume 20, Number 41 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 23 - March 1, 2011
Millennium parents demand release of D.O.E. funds
BY Aline Reynolds
Millennium High School has been saddled with disappointments lately, testing parents’ patience and prompting them to write an angry letter to the city Department of Education.
The letter, dated February 14, demands the release of approximately $1 million in funds N.Y.S. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver secured for the construction of a Millennium H.S. gymnasium in a Downtown space. The school currently lacks a gym.
The D.O.E. subsequently pledged to add up to $4 million in additional capital funding for the project.
But three years have gone by, and the students are still without a gym.
In the note addressed to Lorraine Grillo, president of the D.O.E.’s School Construction Authority, Millennium H.S. Parent-Teacher Association Presidents Karen Manville and Tom Moore said, “It is time for the School Construction Authority to hand over those funds to Millennium High School to be used for other capital improvements instead of it sitting in the coffers of your organization.”
“If you have no intention of fulfilling your promise to our school (and we see no signs that you will deliver on it any time soon),” the letter continues, “then let the money be used for other purposes that will benefit our students.”
On their own volition, Millennium parents hired real estate brokers and architects to evaluate various sites in Lower Manhattan. They sent several proposals to the S.C.A. for consideration, but never got a reply, according to the school’s principal, Robert Rhodes.
“They’ve reached the point of frustration where they don’t want to spend more time on it,” said Rhodes. Rather than lose the money, he said, parents and staff would like to see it be put to good use — towards upgrading the school’s computers, phones and photocopy machines, for example, converting its storage space into administrative offices, or purchasing Smartboards for classrooms.
“When we started on the project, I thought [coming up with] the money would be the problem,” the principal said. “I never imagined the money would be there, and other obstacles would prevent us from moving forward.”
“We want the money back,” said Moore. “It was money allotted to the school which could be used for shrinking class sizes, staff, and additional programming.”
Lacking a gymnasium, Moore said, discourages youths with athletic interests from applying to the school. “It deteriorates our ability to recruit and retain our top students,” said Moore.
“Please know that we remain committed to this project but we have not been successful in finding affordable space,” said Kathleen Grimm, deputy chancellor of the D.O.E., in a December 2010 letter addressed to Manville. The note was a reply to a previous letter the P.T.A. sent to the S.C.A. about the gymnasium funds.
She has asked the head of the D.O.E.’s physical education program to make additional recommendations that could ameliorate the situation in the meantime.
The most recent gym space the D.O.E. considered would have cost $1 million in rent and $7 million in capital expenses, according to Grimm, which was above the Department’s budget.
“Millennium does have a fitness room,” Grimm said. “I agree that is not optimal, but it does afford space for physical activity.”
But Rhodes said the equipment in the school’s small fitness center is wearing out quickly and needs to be replaced.
Silver issued a statement, saying, “Three years ago I secured funding to begin this important project, and I find it extremely disappointing that Millennium High School still does not have a gymnasium.”
The Speaker said he would continue to press the D.O.E. on building a gym, “so that our students can participate in sports and other physical activities that are so critical to their educational experience.”