Change to SCA procedure would benefit overcrowded Brooklyn schools
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The state Assembly and Senate have passed legislation to alleviate severe overcrowding in many New York City schools by requiring the School Construction Authority (SCA) to collect population data from city agencies in advance when planning where to build schools or enlarge facilities.
The bill, sponsored by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senator Daniel Squadron, is expected to help alleviate overcrowding in Brooklyn neighborhoods experiencing enormous population booms -- like Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, DUMBO, Sunset Park and Williamsburg – and in Manhattan and Queens by requiring the SCA to factor in how future population growth might affect overcrowded schools.
Schools like P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights have already been forced to eliminate space dedicated to preschool because they don’t have enough room to house all of their incoming students, and thousands of additional residential units are planned for the Heights and surrounding neighborhoods.
The legislation needs to be signed by the governor to become law.
Schools in Bay Ridge and Borough Park are also packed. The Community Education Council of School District 20 passed a resolution last year calling on elected officials to put pressure on the state’s Department of Education to force the New York City DOE to reduce class sizes. “Class sizes up to 32 in elementary and middle schools and up to 34 in high schools, such large classes, do not provide the individual attention that either general education or special education students need and deserve,” the resolution reads.
Testifying before the state Senate, Senator Squadron said that SCA has never factored in data from City Planning, the Department of Buildings or the Department of Health when forming their five-year educational facilities capital plan. Over the last several years, “The SCA seemed shocked at the explosion of school-age population” in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, Squadron said.
The bill also requires that the data is distributed not just for school districts, “which are pretty wacky, crossing district lines and neighborhoods,” but on the Community Board level. “The Community Boards and the community will know what the projected school-age population is for their neighborhoods for the first time,” Squadron said.
The only surprise is the fact that SCA hasn’t been using this easily available data all along.
Noting that he has a 3-year-old, “The knowledge that you’re going to have a seat in your local school is fundamental to your ability to make a life and invest in your community,” Squadron said.
Speaker Silver said in a statement, “How can we expect our children to get the highest quality education possible when our schools are filled to the brim and classrooms are spilling out into makeshift trailers? Five-year capital plans can be very useful in addressing overcrowding and by integrating current and future population data, the SCA and the City Schools Chancellor will be better able to plan for the needs of our children and accurately assess how much space is necessary to properly educate them and prepare them for a bright and successful future.”
The bill would authorize the SCA to enter into agreements and work with New York City’s office of City Planning and Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene, Buildings and Housing Preservation and Development to access relevant data, and to order to create student population projections for a minimum of five years.
The legislation also requires the SCA to publicly respond to issues raised at Community Education Council (CEC) hearings, including why alternative recommendations were or were not incorporated into the final plans.