Crowded Classrooms: Parent panel claims city is ignoring overcrowding in schools

The city is doing nothing to ease overcrowding in public schools and the New York State Department of Education is letting the city get away with it, a panel of PTA leaders charged in a resolution passed unanimously at a recent meeting. 

The Community Education Council of School District 20 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Borough Park) passed a resolution on March 20 calling on elected officials to put pressure on the state’s Dept. of Education to force the New York City Dept. of Education to reduce class sizes.

The CEC noted in its resolution that the New York City Dept. of Education (DOE) received state funding to reduce class sizes after the New York State legislature passed the Contracts for Excellence law in April of 2007. In addition, a plan the city submitted to the New York State Dept. of Education in November of 2007, a plan the state agency approved, called for annual reductions in class sizes each year with the goal of have classes capped at 20 students per class in grades kindergarten through third; 23 students per class in grades four to eight and 25 student per class in high school, the CEC contends.

“And the still haven't done it,” CEC 20 President Laurie Windsor told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Windsor also noted that more than five years has passed since Contracts for Excellence was approved.

The DOE never allocated the Contracts for Excellence funding toward the reduction of class sizes in New York City, the CEC charged in its resolution.

“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 in part.

“The NYS Education Department has done nothing to ensure that New York City complies with its legal obligations to reduce class size,” the CEC members stated in the resolution.

The CEC in District 21 (Bensonhurst-Gravesend-Coney Island) passed a similar resolution the same night as CEC 20’s vote.

Windsor pointed to one school in District 20 as being indicative of the problem. PS 105, at 1031 59th St. in Borough Park, has a student enrollment of 1,787, she said, citing Dept. of Education figures. The school was built to hold 1,304 students. “It’s operating at 162 percent capacity,” she said.

“We have schools in this district with 10 kindergarten classes,” Windsor said.

“Overcrowded schools affect children’s education,” Winsdor said, adding that teachers can’t give individualized attention to a child if there is a sea of faces before them in a classroom. School overcrowding also means that enrichment programs in art or science fall by the wayside, she said. “You need every classroom you have. You can’t have an art room or a science room. You need those rooms for regular instruction,” she said.

Schools with severe overcrowding problems can petition the city’s DOE to cap their enrollments, a move than allows them to reject new students. But that sets up an unfair dilemma for parents, Windsor said. “You can’t get your child into the school of your choice,” she said.

Similar resolutions have been passed by several community education councils throughout New York City. Each school district in the city has its own CEC, a panel composed of parents of public school children who are elected by PTA leaders.

This isn’t the first time community education councils have sounded the alarm over school overcrowding. In 2011, several councils around the city, including CEC 3 in Harlem and CEC 24 in Corona, passed resolutions calling for the problem to be solved.

A spokesman for the city’s DOE denied that the agency has been inactive on the issue. “In our system of great schools, graduations are at an all time high and the achievement gap is down, and we’re working hard to reduce class sizes throughout the city,”  Deputy Press Secretary Marcus Liem wrote in an email to a reporter.