Overcrowding in two Queens school districts has gone from bad to worse, according to a group of elected officials and school leaders who said this week they would form a task force focused on alleviating the problems in District 24 and District 30.
“Overcrowding has been a problem for decades,” said City Council Member Julissa Ferreras. “It’s ballooned and gotten progressively worse. And it’s been hard to alleviate because I have schools directly across from each other that are overcrowded.”
One indicator of school overcrowding, kindergarten waiting lists, have shown clear signs of supply not meeting demand in the neighborhoods of Corona, Ridgewood, Elmhurst, Astoria, Jackson Heights, and Long Island City. At Pioneer Academy there were 167 students on the waiting list this year, up more than 50 percent from 2012. Another school in District 24, P.S. 143 Louis Armstrong, saw an increase of 14 to 76 students on the kindergarten waiting list.
The advocacy group Make the Road New York cited Department of Education data that show more than half of students in Districts 24 and 30 attend schools with enrollments beyond their building capacities. The new tack force, convened by Ferreras, aims to find short and long term solutions, like portable classrooms, re-zoning school districts, and finding space to build new schools.
“We’re focused on finding solutions,” said Isaac Carmignani, co-president of Community Education Council 30. “Some things will happen more quickly, like rezoning, while other things, like building schools, may take three to four years.”
In a press release, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the D.O.E. was tackling the area's overcrowding with plans to open 12 new buildings and three building extensions within the next three years. Although community leaders applauded the expansions, they said more needs to be done now.
“For example, we want to find potential spaces to lease in the short-term, so I think that’ll be on the menu going forward,” said Daniel Coates, an organizer from Make The Road New York.
Martha Sanchez, a parent of two from District 30, said the overcrowding at her sons’ school, P.S. 92 Harry T. Stewart Sr., has led to less personalized attention.
“Because there are so many kids in each classroom, the teacher doesn’t have time to understand what every student needs, and can’t evenly distribute materials,” she said.
As a result of overcrowding, community leaders said students at some District 24 and District 30 schools eat lunch as early as 9:30 a.m. and hold classes in gyms and trailers. Parents also have complained about the lack of arts programs and other classes.