Tuesday, March 3, 2015

NYC Public School Parents: Testimony of Leonie Haimson before the NYC Council Education Committee On school overcrowding and the deficiencies of the capital plan

NYC Public School Parents: Testimony of Leonie Haimson before the NYC Council Education Committee On school overcrowding and the deficiencies of the capital plan:

Testimony of Leonie Haimson before the NYC Council Education Committee On school overcrowding and the deficiencies of the capital plan

March 3, 2015

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.  My name is Leonie Haimson; I head Class Size Matters a citywide advocacy group devoted to providing information on the benefits of smaller classes to parents and others nationwide.

Last June, Class Size Matters released a report, Space Crunch, which analyzed the school overcrowding crisis in New York City, and pointed out the need to improve the City's proposed five year capital plan for school construction.[1] We found that given enrollment projections and existing overcrowding, it is likely that the real need in our schools is likely over 100,000 new seats, though the current capital plan would create less than half that number. 

By averaging the enrollment projections of the two DOE consultants, Statistical Forecasting and Grier Partnership, and then adding the additional growth from housing starts, as DOE does, one can estimate that  is that there will be approximately 84,000 additional students in grades K-8 by 2021; and an additional 32,000 high school students.[2]

There are only 38,654 seats in the proposed five year capital plan – with 4,000 of those seats still unsited as to district and with undetermined grade levels. Unless the plan is significantly expanded, our students are likely to be sitting in even more overcrowded schools in the years to come.

School overcrowding has significantly worsened in the last six years, especially at the elementary grade level. Last year, elementary school buildings had an average 97.5 percent utilization rate, according to the DOE's figures in the Blue Book, with the median rate at a shocking 102 percent. High schools were not far behind at an average of 95.2 percent.  About half of all students were enrolled in overcrowded schools last year, according to DOE’s figures, with 60% of elementary school students, totaling more than 490,000 students in all. 

At the same time, most experts believe that the official utilization figures reported by the DOE are faulty and actually underestimate the actual level of overcrowding in our schools, The Chancellor has appointed a task force to improve the formula, which will hopefully take account of the real needs of children for smaller classes, and a well-rounded education, with dedicated rooms for art, music and science, as well as mandated services. 

The result of all this overcrowding is that class sizes are pushed above reasonable levels, students have lost their cluster rooms, are assigned to lunch as early as 10 a.m., and/or have no access to the gym. Many special needs students are forced to receive their services in hallways or closets rather than in dedicated spaces.
In eleven NYC school districts, elementary schools average above 100 percent capacity; in 20 out of the 32 districts, above 90 percent. In addition, high schools in Queens and Staten Island average above 100 percent. More than 30,000 additional seats are needed in just these districts to bring schools down to 100 percent.
Even more seats are needed if overcrowding is to be eliminated at the neighborhood level, as evidenced by thousands of students sitting in trailers, and thousands prospective kindergarteners on wait lists for their zoned schools. 

Recent and past policies have worsened overcrowding.  During the Bloomberg administration, fewer schools built than in earlier administrations, as shown in ourSpace Crunch report. In addition, the DOE insisted on inserting hundreds of small schools and charters into buildings that already housed existing schools, eating up classrooms by replicating administrative and specialty rooms – a very inefficient use of space when the infrastructure is already inadequate to meet most students’ needs. In the effort to squeeze in more schools, DOE also redefined the size of a full size classroom down to only 500 square feet in their Instructional footprint, at the same times as increasing class size.  As more and more children were pushed into smaller and smaller rooms, the result has been a violation of the building code in many cases, which requires 20 square feet per student. 

This administration has also undertaken policies that have worsened overcrowding.  This year, in the push to expand pre-Kindergarten, at least 11,800 preK seats were added in 254 schools that were already overcrowded, according to DOE figures. [3]  The DOE’s plan to create community schools with wrap-around services also requires space, for offices and other programmatic needs. And none of this takes into account the need to reduce class size, which remains at a 15 year high in the early grades.   

In addition, the Mayor’s new ambitious plan to build an additional 160,000 additional market-rate units, on top of the 200,000 affordable units over the next ten years will create the need for even more school seats.[4]

Just as this capital plan is totally inadequate to relieve overcrowding, it is also unlikely to achieve the DOE's widely-publicized promise to eliminate trailers or temporary classroom units (TCUs). While the NY Times has reported that 7,158 students are enrolled in classes in these trailers, [5]  the actual number is likely 50 percent higher – as the DOE has omitted from its count thousands of high school, middle school and elementary school students, as well as severely disabled students, who attend classes in these substandard structures.

Moreover, although DOE officials have promised that the capital plan will accomplish the goal of eliminating trailers, many of which are in disrepair and long past their expected lifetime, and have allocated nearly $500 million to remove them and recondition the school yards on which they sit, there is not a single dollar in the capital plan dedicated specifically to replacing their seats. In the November capital plan, 81 TCUs are identified for removal with a minimum enrollment of 1126 students; but 236 TCU’s will remain with at least 6,265 students. The NYC Public School Parents: Testimony of Leonie Haimson before the NYC Council Education Committee On school overcrowding and the deficiencies of the capital plan: