Vol. 19, No. 3 Feb. 9 - 22, 2006


No State $$, No New Schools, City Says
Leadership Institute Home in Doubt


The 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 DOE spokesperson.

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 ago.

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 meeting.


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