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City Will Add Seats to Schools, but Still Fall Short of Demand

Monday, March 26, 2012 - 05:37 PM

The New York City Education Department plans to add 5,000 seats to its plan for city schools, but will still fall short of what is needed to reduce crowding in parts of the city.

In an amendment to its capital plan, the city said it would add a total of 34,000 seats in five years, from 2010 to 2014, primarily through new building and the addition of annexes to existing sites. But the School Construction Authority estimates that city schools actually need 50,000 more seats, according to its Five Year Capital Plan for fiscal years 2010-2014.

City Council members examined the amended plan on Monday at a hearing on the Education Department's capital budget, which covers school facilities. Council members raised concerns about various issues, including updating inadequate school bathrooms and getting more iPads in the hands of students.

School capacity, however, was of top concern. Population shifts in the five boroughs have created what education officials call "pockets of overcrowding," even though the city's overall enrollment has hovered around 1.1 million for the past 10 years.

The increasing demand has contributed to larger class sizes, waiting lists and the co-locations of more schools, council members said.

"We have had two re-zonings in two years in my part of District 2," said Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, who represents the Upper East Side. She said Public School 59 Beekman Hill International, a kindergarten through fifth grade school that opened in 2010, had a kindergarten waiting list of 41 families.

"When a family who literally watched this building go up from their living room, because they live across the street, is told they can't go there, that's not acceptable," Ms. Lappin said.

Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm, who testified on behalf of the Education Department, said city officials were constantly monitoring the issue.

"We're having this problem because we're having more parents who are not moving to Westchester, who are staying here, who are going to our schools," she said.

Education officials concede that the school district with the most overcrowding is District 24 in Queens, which covers several neighborhoods, including Corona, Maspeth and Elmhurst. That district has an estimated need of 7,000 new seats. The Capital Plan allocates funds to create about 5,000.

New seats financed in the Five Year Capital Plan will not necessarily be ready by June 2014, the end of that fiscal year. The School Construction Authority estimates that nearly 22,000 seats will actually become available by September 2014. So far, facilities for a bit more than 9,000 are either completed or under construction.

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