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Know Your Rights
Source: Times Ledger
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Task force to tackle overcrowded schools in western Qns

To address overcrowding in western Queens, the city Department of Education opened PS 307 in Corona in 2008, but it soon became evident more was needed.

“Even when we had the capital dollars and we built PS 307 across the street, it became overcrowded immediately,” state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) said at a meeting last week at the Langston Hughes Library in Corona. “If we don’t fund to have a seat for every child, we’re just playing musical chairs.”

Last Thursday, a task force made up of educators, parents and community members convened by City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) met for the first time to start laying the seeds for a plan to tackle overcrowding in two western Queens school districts.

Districts 24 and 30 are some of the most overcrowded in the city. They have been that way for years and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

District 24 stretches across a large swath of the borough, covering neighborhoods such as Corona in the north and Middle Village, Maspeth and Ridgewood in the south. The district currently has an excess of 6,899 students, according to the Jackson Heights-based community-advocacy group Make the Road New York. The DOE only plans to create 5,055 new seats through construction projects planned through 2018, leaving a need for about 8,700 seats when accounting for population growth, according to Make the Road.

To its northwest, District 30 includes Astoria, Long Island City and Steinway. Plans for 3,717 new seats will still leave about 23 percent of the current demand for 4,819 seats unmet, though Make the Road calculates a decrease in population will leave the district with an excess of more than 1,000 seats by 2018.

But the numbers alone do not tell the whole story.

Genie Calibar, the principal of PS 19, said she has 500 children in trailers — called transportables in edu-speak — outside the school’s main building. She said the students have to move between the trailers and the main building, rain or shine, every day.

“By now they’re really overdue, overdone,” she said.

Ferreras, who attended PS 19 as a child, said the task force would improve communication between schools and parents and work to get the community on the same page when it comes to overcrowding.

One problem, she said, was a huge amount of push-back at community board meetings when a new school is proposed.

“You would be amazed … in these meetings you hear all kinds of reasons why we don’t need a school,” she said.

City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott called the task force a “one-stop shopping” opportunity for the community and the department to come together, and addressed some of the issues brought up by community members.

When asked why the DOE could not build schools where trailers are currently used, Walcott said in a severely overcrowded district it is hard to find a place to put the students during construction.

He also responded to concerns that the DOE is not open about the process.

“We believe in transparency, but at some point we have to go a little dark,” he said. “In negotiations you have to be strategic about the way you negotiate.”

The next task force meeting will be scheduled near the end of May.

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