Thursday, April 15, 2010

Parents and Students Demand City Finally Renovates PS 87

By Conor Greene

The head of the city school system heard an earful from parents, students and teachers who are demanding that the Department of Education live up to a decade-old promise to renovate their Glendale school.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein stopped by PS 87 on Monday for a town hall meeting, during which the community had the chance to ask questions about issues throughout District 24. While topics like the city budget were discussed, the city’s failure to renovate PS 87 when it became a K-8 facility years ago was on the minds of a standing-room-only crowd.

The school became one of the first in the district to expand to K-8, but remains the only not expanded or renovated since, as money set aside for repairs became unavailable after 9/11. To show how bad the problem is, students Lorena Chelaru and Stacey Aguilar presented a video showing the building’s crumbling ceiling, crowded hallways and cafeteria, lack of full-size gym and run-down bathrooms featuring broken sinks and lack of stall doors.

“We want that expansion that we’ve been fighting for a long time now,” said CEC 24 President Nick Comaianni. “This shows you what many of the students… have to work with – it’s not much. Hopefully this is something we can work together to see what we can do to help PS 87.”

In response, Klein called the video “terrific” but noted there are an “enormous number of compelling demands” at schools across the city. Still, he agreed to conduct a feasibility study to assess the situation and then work with Community Education Council 24 “to make sure your priorities are aligned with what can be done.” That prompted at least one audience member to yell, “Don’t give us empty promises.”

Council Vice President Peter Vercessi said that renovating PS 87 is a “top priority,” but was unable to get a clear answer from Klein as to why the work never happened. Klein couldn’t explain why the renovations never took place, and took exception with the idea that “something happened to the money.” He said it was likely the money was reallocated, but couldn’t say for sure since he wasn’t chancellor at the time.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) also pushed the chancellor to provide a “real promise” regarding the expansion.

“You have my commitment that we will look at those issues and work with the community to find a real solution,” said Klein in response to the councilwoman.

While the situation surrounding PS 87 dominated much of the meeting, Klein took a few moments to give an update on progress made around the city and within the district since Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002.

Since then, the city’s school budget has rose from $13 billion to $21 billion, with city funding up 80 percent, state up 55 percent and federal up 27 percent. Per pupil spending has increased from $10,649 to $17,696.

“We’re making better investments and getting better results,” said Klein. As a result, graduation rates have jumped 33 percent in that time, after staying flat for the prior decade. Schools are also safer, according to Klein, with major and violent crime rates down across the city.

In District 24, which is considered the most overcrowded in the city, eight new schools have opened since 2003, said Klein. “This is a good school district – people want to go to school here, so we’re building.” There are eight more projects planned for the district in the upcoming five-year capital plan, including six schools with a total of 4,302 seats.

Vercessi asked what the likelihood is of having that capital plan cut, given how much is at stake for the district. “Right now, there is no reason to think the capital plan for this district will be cut,” responded Klein.

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