City: Nearly Half of NYC Students In Overcrowded Schools

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City Councilman Daniel Dromm chairs the education committee.

Approximately 490,000 students, or 45 percent of the public school population, attend overcrowded schools in New York City, according to city education officials, yet plans to create new seats do not meet projected needs. 

"We have individual buildings, and in some cases entire neighborhoods, that are overcrowded," said Elizabeth Rose, an acting deputy chancellor for operations at the Department of Education. "And in other cases, we have buildings and neighborhoods that are underutilized."

Rose spoke at a City Council hearing on Tuesday, giving the latest numbers on a perennial problem: overcrowded schools in certain pockets of the city. She said District 20 in Brooklyn, which covers neighborhoods like Bay Ridge and Borough Park, has seen a surge in overcrowded buildings in recent years. Districts 24 and 30 in Queens, encompassing Jackson Heights, Long Island City and Corona, continue to host some of the city’s most overcrowded schools.

Based on the city’s own numbers, its plan to create approximately 33,000 new seats through fiscal year 2019 would not meet the demand, projected at about 49,000 seats. To critics, including parent leaders who have fought loudly for new schools or smaller classes for their children, the disconnect was even worse because, they claimed, city officials grossly underestimated the actual need. 

Leonie Haimson, who leads the non-profit group Class Size Matters, conducted her own space analysis which determined the city would need to add 100,000 new seats to meet enrollment needs and address current overcrowding.

One problem, parents and elected officials have said, is that the Department of Education makes citywide enrollment projections, rather than enrollment projections by neighborhood. Parent leaders also contended that the city artificially inflates the capacity of school buildings when cluster rooms, such as computer labs or art rooms, get converted into regular classroom space. Once those cluster rooms are counted as actual classrooms, the capacity of a building -- on paper -- increases.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña last year created a working group to possibly reform these calculations as well as the technical document which records how buildings are utilized, known as the Blue Book. The group finished its work and created a list of recommendations, which have yet to be released.

Lisa Donlan, a member of the Blue Book working group, said that if the Department of Education adopted the group's recommended changes then the revised math would show how current overcrowding levels have been "severely understated."

The Department of Education said the group's recommendations would be released "soon."