Volume 20, Number 44 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | March 16 - 22, 2011
New school is victory, but fight continues
The news this week that the Department of Education has decided to open a new elementary school in Lower Manhattan was welcome. The neighborhood is fortunate to have dedicated elected leaders, community members, educators and parents who tirelessly advocated for the necessary new seats.
But although it is a definitive victory, it is far from the end of the fight.
We have long said that one of the bright spots in Lower Manhattan post 9/11 has been the growth of the residential population. Downtown is booming with new, young life. It is one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the entire city as families are choosing not only to move here, but to create a life here, to send their kids to public school here and to help turn the area into a true 24/7 community.
One sure way to stop that growth is to neglect the urgent need for more schools. While people might be able to deal with not having enough parks, or even having enough hospitals, in their neighborhoods, people will not deal with large class sizes, long commutes and not enough seats to ensure an appropriate education for their children — nor should they.
One of the main reasons this new school has become a reality is that our local community got the facts straight. Eric Greenleaf has been an invaluable resource in the fight to prevent a real school-overcrowding crisis because he has taken the time to study the population growth and the need for more seats. His latest numbers only bolster our argument that we cannot stop now in making sure the Department of Education continues to focus on Lower Manhattan. The new 400-seat school is great news, but when it opens in three years, according to Greenleaf, it will open at full capacity. And come 2017, Greenleaf predicts a shortage of over 1,400 seats.
Community Board 1 has also utilized data to sway the Dept. of Education to pay attention and heed the call for more schools. Board members went door to door, conducting a mini-census to estimate the need for more schools. Their work was so diligent, and so valuable, that other Community Boards in the city have asked C.B. 1 Chair Julie Menin to speak at their meetings and tell their members how to go about generating data for their districts.
Another reason this new school has come to fruition is due to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s creation of an Overcrowding Task Force, of which Greenleaf is a member. A recent meeting of the task force was where new Schools Chancellor Cathie Black made her infamous ‘birth control’ joke and is where Greenleaf regularly presents his data. Verbal gaff excused, Black clearly listened to the concerns of the community and we applaud her role when it comes to the creation of this newest school.
We must however ask Black to continue appearing at Speaker Silver’s task force meetings. The Dept. of Ed still has a long way to go to catch up to Downtown’s demographic wave.
Moreover, we ask everyone involved in the victorious fight to bring this new school to the neighborhood to keep it up and to continue fighting. What is needed now is a comprehensive plan to stem the overcrowding. The Dept. of Education must begin to look ahead, to use the data that are obviously out there, and to be proactive.
Over $30 billion has been invested in bringing Lower Manhattan back to life following 9/11. But if the families that are choosing make their home here decide to pack up and move to the suburbs due to a lack of school seats, the investment could be for naught.