2002-03-09 / Front Page

New School Math: 3,000 New Students + No New Seats = Disaster

By Howard Schwach

New School Math:
3,000 New Students + No New Seats = Disaster

There is a new math that may soon impact Rockaway and its school community. That math would add approximately 3,000 students to Rockaway's already largely overcrowded schools at a time when the fiscal crisis and its budget demands mandate that no new schools be built in Rockaway or anyplace else in the city.

"We have been told that there will be no capital budget items for new schools until 2005," Steve Greenberg, the president of Community School Board 27 told the members at a meeting last week. "With the exception of PS 253 (which is scheduled to be built in Far Rockaway) there is little chance that we will get any new school seats in the foreseeable future."

"At the same time," he added, "we took a ride from Breezy Point to West Lawrence and we found at least 700 new one and two family homes being constructed. We have to ask where the kids who move into those homes are going to go to school."

Greenberg, along with two of the other school board members – James Adams and Ernest Brown – drove for several hours, delving into "every nook and cranny" in the peninsula, looking for construction or signs that construction was going to soon begin.

What they found was "alarming" to the three long-time board members.

They found that every elementary school in the Rockaway's, with the exception of PS 114 and PS 105, would be effected by the building boom now going on.

In the PS 225 zone, for example, the board members found that approximately 160 one and two-family homes were being built.

"Those homes are for families, not for seniors," Greenberg told the board. Those homes are going to house lots of school-aged kids."

Housing experts told The Wave that homes such as those usually draw an average of 1.5 to 2 children per unit. The 160 two-family homes would then translate into 320 units, or approximately 430-600 new children for PS 225, a school that is already at 105 percent of its capacity.

According to the board members, there will soon be 102 new one and two-family homes as well as a new apartment complex in the PS 183 zone. That may bring as many as 350 or 400 new students to a school that is very close to its utilization.

In the PS 42 zone, there will be 256 new one and two-family homes. In the PS 106 zone, there will be 80 new homes, most of them as part of the Ocean Pointe development.

"We asked the developer where the kids who lived there would go to school," Greenberg says. "He told us that the city was going to take care of it."

In the PS 43 zone, there are now 50 new apartments that were just built, most of them for families.

In the PS 197 zone, there are 100 new one and two-family homes being built.

In the PS 215 zone, there are 48 new one and two-family homes being built.

In the PS 104 zone, there are 80 new one and two-family homes being built.

With the exception of PS 42, PS 105 (which just came back to the district after being a SURR School) and PS 183, all of the Rockaway elementary schools are at more than 100 percent utilization today.

"It's not hard to see that we have a real problem," Greenberg said. "The question is what can we do about it? We cannot wait until 2005 for a new capital budget to address this problem."

"People don't understand the magnitude of the new housing being built in Rockaway and the problems that it will cause the schools," added James Adams, who had also been on the housing tour.

The board's tour did not take into account the 2,300 homes planned for Arverne By The Sea, the development of the Arverne Urban Renewal Area.

"We have been told too many times that something is going to be built there, and it has never happened, so we can't plan for it now," one board member told The Wave. "That development is also scheduled for a 700-seat elementary charter school of its own, so it might not even be in our purview to plan school seats for the kids who live there – at least for the elementary school kids."

At its recent meeting, held at PS 104 last Thursday, some of the board members said that the peninsula should be rezoned to reflect the new housing.

Ernest Brown, one of the members who had been on the housing tour, disagreed.

"Wherever you move those kids, unless you bus them off the peninsula, they are going to find overcrowded conditions," Brown said.

Others suggested modular school buildings like the modular homes that are being constructed on Beach 102 Street, nearby MS 180.

Some suggested "split sessions," where some students would attend school in the morning and others in the afternoon.

Still others suggested busing the Rockaway students to Howard Beach and other areas of the district.

"I really don't want to get into the same mess that we had on the mainland, where kids traveled long distances on buses each day," Greenberg said.

He pointed to an example where children from PS 106 in Edgemere might have to be bused each day to PS 207, a Howard Beach school that is underutilized.

All of the board members that were present at the meeting agreed that something had to be done and be done quickly.

"We have to get tough, to get nasty," said board member Ronni Schwab. "We have to get to somebody who can do something about this."

"Everybody writes off Rockaway," she adds. "The people from Manhattan who made the decisions do not even know where Rockaway is."

"Perhaps we have to keep the kids out of school in September," Brown added. "Nobody goes in. That will get attention."

Greenberg and others were not ready, however, for those steps. The board will try and set up a meeting with Dennis Walcott, the mayor's point man on educational matters and with Borough President Helen Marshall.

"We have a real crisis here, one that the city can't ignore," Greenberg concluded. "They will ignore it at the community's peril."

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