Before it was legislated out of existence, the leadership of Community School Board 27 conducted a survey of all the new housing promised for Rockaway and concluded that at least three new schools would be needed to house all of the new students moving to the peninsula. Using the accepted theory that each new two or three-bedroom unit brings an average of 1.4 children, the belief at the time was that at least 3,000 new school seats would be needed in Rockaway by the year 2010. It was a solid prediction, but one that was rejected by the city fathers, who saw no need for new seats until those students were already on the ground. The city fathers, as usual, were wrong. Children began to move into those new homes in 2005 and the crisis is building into a crescendo that will hit shortly after the 2010 date predicted by CSB 27. That crisis of a lack of school seats is exacerbated by the decision a few years ago to turn all of the peninsula's schools into a K-8 organization, meaning that elementary schools now had to house three more grades of children much too large for traditional elementary seats, cafeterias and gymnasiums. The elementary schools quickly became overcrowded at the same time that the three middle schools were being drained of students. So, you say, just make elementary schools out of the middle schools. Well, Middle School 198 in Arverne has become a choice K-3 School called the Goldie Maple Academy. Middle School 180 in Rockaway Beach has morphed into the Scholar's Academy, a school for gifted students from throughout the peninsula. Only Middle School 53 remains a middle school, although for now it houses a charter school owned by Senator Malcolm Smith called the Peninsula Preparatory Academy.
There are few seats in any Rockaway school and yet the children keep coming. District 27, which includes Rockaway, was slated for 2,597 new seats in a plan that was released a year ago. That total was recently reduced to 2,331 seats and that includes both new construction and rehabilitation of old buildings. Arverne By The Sea, the massive project that will bring more than 2,000 new homes to Rockaway, will build one 850-seat school in that development, but it will be a charter school, not a neighborhood school. What does the lack of seats mean? For example, a new student moving to Belle Harbor may not be able to get a seat of PS 114 but will be bused to PS 225 or some mainland school instead. Thousands of kids may well be bused off the peninsula to schools on the mainland. The Community Education Council, the no-power panel that took over from the CSB, now sees the problem and has asked for the city to study the problem and to stop all construction in Rockaway until a solution is found. We think that recommendation is a bit over the top. There is a problem and it must be studied and addressed. Stopping the building boom, however, is not the answer. Building more schools as quickly as possible is the proper solution and the city should get to work now, before it becomes a crisis that drives people off the peninsula.