2007-01-19 / Community

Klein: Need More Schools, But Where To Put Them?

By Howard Schwach

Chancellor Joel Klein speaks at the Community Education Council meeting in Ozone Park on Tuesday night. To his left is Andrew Baumann, the council's president. Chancellor Joel Klein speaks at the Community Education Council meeting in Ozone Park on Tuesday night. To his left is Andrew Baumann, the council's president. With the mass development of new housing units now going on all over the Rockaway peninsula, the question of where the children who come with those homes will go to school has become a contentious one, pitting local education activists against the Department of Education's construction agency experts.

The local Community Education Council (CEC), a parent group that has an advisory role in school affairs, passed a resolution at its monthly meeting on Tuesday night that calls on the Borough President to impose a moratorium on all new housing in Rockaway until the school situation is sorted out. At the same meeting, Chancellor Joel Klein admitted that Rockaway needs several new schools to keep up with the growth, but questioned where to put them.

"We have plans in the budget for 2,330 new seats in District 27," Klein told the sparse crowd of educators and parent activists. "However, we have not been able to find any sites to put them. We need your help in finding sites for those new seats and then we need a full-court press to get them built."

Rockaway resident David Hooks, a member of the CEC who was also a member of the deposed Community School Board 27, thinks that the chancellor's statement that sites can't be found is "absurd."

"He has people on the ground, how can he not know where the needs are, where the schools should go," Hooks said on Wednesday. "I was not satisfied the way he handled that question [at the meeting]. We can't wait for the equity money to build new schools. We have a crisis on our doorstep and its going to be sitting there come September." Hooks added that he has been asking the central question of where the seats will come from for the new kids since the school board made note of the problem more than five years ago.

"The Department of Education keeps saying that the statistics do not show the need for new schools. Their experts didn't factor in all the new development on the side streets, that were not part of the large development plans, and now we have hit the ceiling and we have no place to go."

A spokesperson for the School Construction Agency, however, said that the agency understood the need for more schools, was studying the problem and looking for suitable sites. That spokesperson, however, denied that there is a crisis.

"We have to do this in an orderly fashion and we will have seats when they are needed," the spokesperson said.

Andrew Baumann, the CEC's president, agrees with Hooks that the chancellor should have known about several available sites in Rockaway.

"We met last month with some people from the region and gave them some sites to look at," Baumann, who lives in Ozone Park, said. "We told them about the old Hartman Y property at 710 Hartman Lane, about the old Neponsit Home property, which would be good for a campus that could hold two or three schools, about a city-owned property in the Beach 80 Street area and about the large property next to PS 43 in Edgemere. We gave them lots of options."

"His answer is not going to work for me," Baumann added. "We're going to see 6,800 new homes in Rockaway and the only school planned is a 600-seat charter school in Arverne By The Sea. We can't let them build more homes without building more schools." Baumann believes that a new school should be mandatory as soon as 500 new homes are built.

He and his council feel so strongly about building new schools, that it unanimously passed the resolution to ask Borough President Helen Marshall to halt the development process until there are new schools.

That resolution calls for a "School Seat Requirement" similar to the one in place in Staten Island, to be implemented for Rockaway. That requirement mandates that no new homes be built until there are sufficient school seats for the children who will live there.

"CEC 27 requests the city to place a moratorium on issuing residential construction permits unless there are school seats available to cover the rising housing growth," the resolution says. "A school seat would be available under one of three conditions" the school already exists; a school is within one year of completion or a school is in the city's capital budget within three years of completion. For every school seat certified, permits for two housing units can be granted."

"We had to pass that resolution," Hooks said. "We are on the doorstep of a crisis and need to go to Albany and get them to put the schools we need on the drawing board right now." The Borough President's office declined to comment on the resolution until Marshall had time to study it, but did say that Marshall understands the need for more schools for the Rockaway peninsula.

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