City Budget Beefs Up School Construction But Overcrowding Persists

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When it comes to school overcrowding, and the city's $14.9 billion school capital plan, there's good news and there's bad news. 

On a positive note: the city's Department of Education added $1.4 billion to its plan, with much of these funds allocated for building new schools or additions to buildings to ease overcrowding. This is a significant amount of money, first announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in January.

The bad news? On top of the added $1.4 billion, the city would realistically need roughly $4 billion more in order to fully fund the Department of Education's own estimated need of 83,000 seats. As it stands now, the city's school capital plan funds about 44,000 seats — just over half the demand — through fiscal year 2019.

"We need to continue to fight to get that extra $4 billion into the plan if we're actually going to meet the need that we currently have," said City Councilman Daniel Dromm at a hearing on the city's school capital budget Tuesday.

The city's estimated need of 83,000 seats — an increase of 33,000 from last June — is, in theory, good news as well. The revised estimate comes after the Department of Education changed the way it calculated space in school buildings, in order to get a better handle on school overcrowding.

For years prior, critics said the city's accounting of school capacity grossly understated overcrowding. 

The revised numbers showed that more than half of the city's elementary and middle school buildings were overcrowded. And after these revised numbers came out, the city amended its capital plan to reflect the overcrowding.

"This is a very significant change versus prior years," said Elizabeth Rose, deputy chancellor overseeing school facilities, who spoke at the hearing. 

The school capital plan isn't all about overcrowding, though. Here are some of the other projects funded in the plan:

  • The city is spending $670 million to create more than 7,500 new pre-k seats.
  • $450 million has been allocated to remove trailers. The city has removed 73 trailers since 2013, and has plans to remove 107 more. About 175 trailers still need a removal plan.
  • The city will replace all remaining PCB light fixtures by the end of 2016. 
  • The city will spend $125 million to upgrade athletic fields.