Our letter to the Mayor and Chancellor

Sign on to a postcard version of this letter.

Dear Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein:

A critical ingredient to improving our schools is eliminating overcrowding and providing our children with the class sizes they need to learn and grow. Unfortunately, official city statistics show that 38 percent of New York City public school students attend schools in buildings that are overcrowded. In addition, 60-63% of K-3rd graders are in classrooms that exceeded the class size targets in the City’s own state-mandated class size reduction plan, as well as 59% of 4th graders, 66% of 5th graders, 76% of 6th graders, 82% of 7th graders, 84% of 8th graders, and approximately 81% of high school students – more than half a million students overall.Meanwhile, the City has seen an explosion of new residential development which, in most neighborhoods, has not been matched by a corresponding increase in public school capacity. Recent reports by the City Comptroller, the Manhattan Borough President, the United Federation of Teachers, and Class Size Matters have demonstrated the problems with this failure to plan proactively for growth before it occurs.

This November, the Department of Education (DOE) and the School Construction Authority (SCA) will have the opportunity to change this, when they propose the new five-year capital plan for new school construction. If we want the future course of the City’s public school system to be bright, and if we want parents – and their employers – to continue investing their futures in New York City, this new capital plan must propose enough new school seats to serve our City’s schoolchildren well into the future.

Parents, educators, advocates and elected officials are uniting to call for a capital plan that meets the needs of our City’s growing population by making three fundamental, but far-reaching, reforms: the ABC’s of A Better Capital Plan.

A. Address existing overcrowding and reduce class size.

The new capital plan should specifically aim to relieve existing overcrowding and reduce class sizes to the City’s target levels. First, the Capital Plan should propose enough new seats to ensure that all public schools will operate at or below their actual capacity. Second, the Plan should propose enough new seats to reduce class sizes to the levels set out by the City in its own state-mandated class size reduction plan — 20 students in grades K-3, and 23 in all other grades — while providing adequate “cluster room” space for the arts, sciences and other subject areas. DOE and SCA should explain, in detail, how a fully funded capital plan would be able to achieve both of these basic objectives.

B. Be ready for growth, and plan at the neighborhood level.

A Five-Year Capital Plan must go further than compensating for existing overcrowding; it must also meet the anticipated demands of the new schoolchildren who will be come to our city over the next five years. It is time to begin looking at school planning from the perspective of urban planners and development analysts. DOE and SCA should work directly with independent planning experts, and with parent and community leaders, to establish a clear, transparent procedure for projecting and estimating the amount and location of future residential growth, and the number of school seats needed to accompany it. Projected new residential development must become a prominent part of the methodology underlying the next Capital Plan, rather than a marginal factor. In addition, the new Capital Plan should plan at the neighborhood level, and even at the level of individual school catchment areas, rather than solely through the lens of Community School Districts. When DOE describes the overall capacity of a School District, it can obscure the fact that certain neighborhoods constitute pockets of significant overcrowding or residential growth. New Yorkers have a reasonable expectation that they won’t have to send their elementary-age children miles away to find space in a school.

C. Correct the faulty capacity estimates.

The Capital Plan’s assumptions about the current state of school overcrowding are based on the City’s current capacity statistics, as reported in DOE’s “Blue Book.” But according to principals, teachers, parents – and even the State’s highest court, in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity decision – these official estimates overstate the true capacity of neighborhood schools. In many cases, they fail to adequately reflect the conversion of “cluster rooms” — spaces that should be used for art and music rooms, science laboratories, special education services, libraries, and even auditoriums and gymnasiums – into academic classrooms. These spaces are invaluable to teaching and learning and should be reclaimed in order to provide New York City schoolchildren the well-rounded education they deserve. The official statistics also fail to account for the cumulative impact on a school when multiple schools, or independent charter schools, are sited within one facility. DOE and SCA should work closely with educators, parents, arts experts and others to revise these official capacity estimates, and base the Capital Plan on a more accurate picture of our schools’ needs.

We recognize that, in difficult fiscal times, it will be a challenge to provide enough funding to meet all of these priorities. But the city will never be able to provide the level of support necessary for its public school students if the Capital Plan does not fairly and forthrightly spell out the amount of new construction required to meet these basic educational goals.

With more families choosing to raise children in New York City, and City Planning projecting that the city’s population will increase by nearly a million people in the coming decades, this is a problem that can’t wait for a solution. We urge you to propose a Capital Plan this November that incorporates basic elements of progressive planning, and that brings us closer to validating the State Constitution’s guarantee of a quality education for every child.

Sincerely,

Scott M. Stringer
Manhattan Borough President

Adolfo Carrión, Jr.
Bronx Borough President

Betsy Gotbaum
New York City Public Advocate

Carolyn B. Maloney
United States House of Representatives

Jerrold Nadler
United States House of Representatives

Charles B. Rangel
United States House of Representatives

Nydia Velazquez
United States House of Representatives

Thomas K. Duane
New York State Senate

Liz Krueger
New York State Senate

Bill Perkins
New York State Senate

Diane J. Savino
New York State Senate

Eric Schneiderman
New York State Senate

Jose M. Serrano
New York State Senate

Toby Ann Stavisky
New York State Senate

Jonathan L. Bing
New York State Assembly

William Colton
New York State Assembly

Steven Cymbrowtiz
New York State Assembly

Ruben Diaz, Jr.
New York State Assembly

Jeffrey Dinowitz
New York State Assembly

Adriano Espaillat
New York State Assembly

Herman D. Farrell
New York State Assembly

Deborah J. Glick
New York State Assembly

Richard N. Gottfried
New York State Assembly

Janele Hyer-Spencer
New York State Assembly

Brian P. Kavanagh
New York State Assembly

Micah Z. Kellner
New York State Assembly

Rory I. Lancman
New York State Assembly

Alan Maisel
New York State Assembly

Joan L. Millman
New York State Assembly

Daniel J. O’Donnell
New York State Assembly

Adam Clayton Powell, IV
New York State Assembly

Peter M. Rivera
New York State Assembly

Linda B. Rosenthal
New York State Assembly

Matthew Titone
New York State Assembly

Darryl C. Towns
New York State Assembly

Keith L.T. Wright
New York State Assembly

Maria del Carmen Arroyo
New York City Council

Tony Avella
New York City Council

Gale A. Brewer
New York City Council

Bill de Blasio
New York City Council

Lewis A. Fidler
New York City Council

Daniel R. Garodnick
New York City Council

Alan J. Gerson
New York City Council

Inez Dickens
New York City Council

Robert Jackson
New York City Council

Letitia James
New York City Council

Melinda R. Katz
New York City Council

G. Oliver Koppell
New York City Council

Jessica S. Lappin
New York City Council

Melissa Mark-Viverito
New York City Council

Miguel Martinez
New York City Council

Rosie Mendez
New York City Council

Annabel Palma
New York City Council

Diana Reyna
New York City Council

Kendall Stewart
New York City Council

James Vacca
New York City Council

David Yassky
New York City Council

Randi Weingarten, President
United Federation of Teachers

Bertha Lewis, Executive Director
ACORN

Kim Sweet, Executive Director
Advocates for Children

Billy Easton, Executive Director
Alliance for Quality Education

Leonie Haimson
Class Size Matters and Co-Chair

Manhattan Borough President School
Overcrowding Taskforce

Ed Ott, Executive Director
Central Labor Council

Richard Kessler, Executive Director
Center for Arts Education

Pam Bennett, NYC Director
Citizen Action of New York Coalition For

After-School Funding

Wayne Ho, Executive Director
Coalition for Asian American Children and
Families

Luis O. Reyes, Coordinator
Coalition for Educational Excellence for

English Language Learners

Ernest A. Logan, President

Council of School Supervisors &
Administrators

Glynda Carr, New York Executive Director
Education Voters of New York

Elsie St. Louis Accilien, Executive Director
Haitian Americans United for Progress, Inc

Lillian Rodriguez-Lopez, President
Hispanic Federation

Patrick Sullivan, Co-Chair
Manhattan Borough President School
Overcrowding Taskforce &
Panel for Educational Policy Appointee

Hazel N. Dukes, President
NAACP, NY State chapter

Kenneth Cohen, Director
NAACP Metropolitan Council

John Beam, Executive Director

National Center for Schools and Communities,
Fordham University

Chung-Wha Hong, Executive Director
NY Immigration Coalition

Jane Hirschmann, Founder/Co-Chair
Time out from Testing

Sign on to a postcard version of this letter.

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