Feb. 9 - 22, 2006
No State $$, No
New Schools, City Says
Leadership Institute Home in Doubt
By HEATHER HADDON
fates of the Leadership Institute, a small high school, along with
22 other school construction projects are in limbo because the state
has not delivered additional education funds.
The city Department of Education (DOE) indicated that the renovation
of the Institute’s new site would be postponed in a December
revision to its capital plan. DOE had banked on the Campaign for
Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit to provide $16.1 million for the
Institute, along with $744 million for the other projects.
The state’s highest court ruled in 2003 that the city deserves
billions in additional dollars for its schools, but Albany is still
dragging its feet. The governor has appealed court decisions on the
matter for years. In his budget address last month, Pataki made no
mention of the mandate.
The city is pressing the issue. The mayor went to Albany last month
to lobby lawmakers, and the City Council introduced a resolution
last week demanding that the state pay up. “We call on the governor
to stop stalling and immediately comply,” said Council Member Robert
Jackson, the Education Committee chair, in a statement.
The DOE remains optimistic that the stalled projects could still
move ahead soon. “We’re very hopeful that something will be worked
out before the end of the calendar year,” said Margie Feinberg, a
In the meantime, the Institute’s fate is unclear. The school opened
in the Police Athletic League building on Webster Avenue last fall,
and was to permanently relocate to the old Fordham Library this
September. Region 1 Superintendent Irma Zardoya, who retired this
month, said the project was on track during a meeting two months
That assessment was somewhat accurate. The DOE completed all the
preliminary scoping and design work to transform the Bainbridge
Avenue building into a 300-seat school. Construction could begin
immediately — if funds were on hand.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Ronn Jordan, president of the
Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. The Coalition and
its youth group, Sistas and Brothas United, founded the school and
assist in running it.
Final word on all 23 schools will be decided later this month during
a meeting of the city’s Panel for Education Policy, which replaced
the old Board of Education. Three Bronx high schools in Mott Haven
and Hunts Point are also slated for delays.
Many renovations to existing local schools will move forward as
promised. The budget amendment states that building work for PS/MS
20, MS 45, PS 56, MS 80, PS 94, PS/MS 95, MS 143, MS 206, MS 254, PS
280, Walton and DeWitt Clinton high schools will take place this
year with city funds. Bigger projects, like science and computer
labs, are pinned to the same elusive state funds and will mostly be
postponed. Over $600 million in repairs and new equipment for city
schools were nixed, according to Council estimates.
The DOE also delayed many construction and renovation projects in
last year’s version of its five-year capital budget. The state
consistently gets the blame. “Our students have been shortchanged
for so long,” Feinberg said.
Jordan thinks the city should have used more foresight. “The [DOE]
knew they weren’t getting the CFE funding,” he said. “It’s not like
Pataki was going to wake up one day and become benevolent.”
But Noreen Connell, a leading education advocate, thinks the city is
being strategic. “It’s good for it [the construction funding] to
come to a head,” said Connell, executive director of the Educational
Priorities Panel, a city advocacy group.
Tagging specific projects to CFE funding puts the ball solidly in
the state’s court, she said. “It’s a risk, but otherwise it’s never
going to be solved,” said Connell, who is optimistic that the CFE
suit will be resolved in the next year or so.
Pataki is appealing the ruling for the last possible time. He wants
the case to go before the U.S. Supreme Court, but Connell doubts the
justices will take it on based on decades of reluctance to hear
school funding issues.
Feinberg would not say what would happen to the Institute if funds
don’t materialize by the fall. The school will outgrow its current
site next school year once another 110 students are enrolled. Jordan
was told they might have to move into a big high school, like
Roosevelt, as has been the case with many of the city’s new small
schools. He’s not in favor of that option.
The Coalition is busily lobbying local lawmakers on the Institute’s
behalf, and plans to turn out in force at the Education Policy
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