Monday, September 29, 2008

Crowded Schools in Manhattan

In Manhattan, our educational infrastructure needs larger quantity as well as improved quality. The desire for better quality education is well established all over New York City and all over urban America. In many neighborhoods in Manhattan, the lack of educational infrastructure quantity also deserves attention.

New School Construction Is Rare

When the Thurgood Marshall Academy on 135th Street opened its own building in early 2004 after sharing space with other schools for a decade, it was the first new public high school built in Harlem in over 50 years.

In an unprecedented development that may help light a path for others looking to improve the quantity of space in NYC devoted to educating our children, Thurgood Marshall Academy was built by a NYC non-profit organization rather than by the School Construction Authority that has been responsible for all such projects since its creation. The lack of new school construction is a problem in every part of Manhattan and has led to overcrowding in many communities, and an apparent lack of sufficient planning may cause that overcrowding to persist well into the future.

The Growing School Seat Deficit

In April 2008, the Manhattan Borough President's Office focused on this problem in its report Crowded Out, which illuminated some startling statistics. First, for the areas of Manhattan with the greatest crowding problems in the public schools, NYC issued permits for new buildings estimated to represent more than 2000 new students during the period from 2000 to 2007. During that same period, the number of additional seats added for students in those same areas was only 143 seats. If that deficit of nearly 2000 seats seems backward looking, the current state of planning for the future appears to exacerbate the problem. Over the next five years, NYC plans to create new seats in public schools to serve approximately 4,300 students in Manhattan. Unfortunately, the overcrowded schools in Manhattan already have a 3,900 seat deficit. If the number of students attending Manhattan's public schools did not grow, AND if we also could target all of the new seats to the most crowded schools, we'd still need all five years just to eliminate the deficit. Realistically, Manhattan's student population is very likely to grow materially in coming years, and NYC's official estimates assume substantial growth in the population of Manhattan. Moreover, the additional capacity for students at public schools in Manhattan will not be targeted 100% to the areas with the greatest capacity needs. Therefore, we are almost certain to have more overcrowding in five years than we have today, even if we achieve NYC's current plans for expanding capacity over that time frame.

Borough President Scott Stringer recently updated his April report to include data from January to August 2008. In that report, we learn that the number of housing units represented by buildings approved during the first 8 months of 2008 is 32% ahead of the average level established for a full year from 2000 to 2007, even though the year is only 67% complete. The increased flow of housing units is a positive development, but the additional homes result in an increase in the size of the public school seat deficit identified in the April report.

Planning for the Future

Later this year, the NYC Department of Education and the School Construction Authority will propose a capital plan for fiscal years 2010 to 2014. As Manhattanites, we should encourage Chancellor Klein and his leadership team take into account the public school seat deficit and the continued growth of the population of our borough. In Manhattan, several of our neighborhoods are already facing serious school overcrowding, and we'll need to create space as soon as practical for our children who are in school today as well as plan aggressively in order to allow ourselves to provide ample space for the children who will populate Manhattan's schools over the next 10+ years.

On October 3, at 9am on the steps of City Hall, concerned residents of NYC will rally for increased quantity and quality of educational infrastructure, reduced class size, and better planning for the future space needs of our children. Your voice can make a real difference in the decisions our city's leaders make with regard to school overcrowding.

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