Vol. 12, No. 19 October 7 - 20, 1999


Parents Tour Schools to Highlight Overcrowding Plight


Last month, PS 75 in the south Bronx's District 8 had to turn away dozens of kindergartners who are now sitting at home instead of in a classroom.

In District 9, PS 90 buses many of its youngest children to schools far from home because of severe overcrowding.aps246.jpg (17980 bytes)

Closer to home, in Fordham Bedford, 1,000 students occupy PS 246, though it's not supposed to accommodate more than 700. Because the building was not designed as a school, kids are crammed into unusually small rooms.

To illustrate the impact of the overcrowding epidemic, on Sept. 23, 100 parents with the New York City Parent Organizing Consortium (POC) boarded yellow school buses and took the press on a tour of three schools they say are typical of many more in crisis.

The POC, an education reform coalition, brought six community organizations, including the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) and the Hunts Point-based Mothers on the Move (MOM), to the drawing board to organize the day of demonstration.

Along the tour, parents and activists met principals and surveyed school space. Eva Garcia, principal of PS 75, told parents that, in an effort to boost academic performance, she reduced early childhood class sizes. But this move shut many children out of registration, including about 25 kindergartners. Garcia also told parents that children in upper grades number between 35 and 40, with one sixth grade class containing 42 students.

To cope with overcrowding, all three schools have surrendered office space. "We've been able to reduce class size in the first grade because the Parents Association gave up their space for a classroom," Garcia said. PS 75 sacrificed its teacher center and guidance office for classroom space.

At PS 246, parents and reporters surveyed classes in session and found 22 students crammed into a library/computer room, estimated by the tour leader to be about 400 square feet. The school was originally a home for the blind and destitute, according to principal Frank Gonzalez, and the classrooms were originally designed as dorm rooms. So, many rooms, which in other schools are typically 750 square feet, are only 500 or 550 square feet at PS 246. "Rooms are two-thirds the size they should be, but we're still putting in 35 children," Gonzalez said.

For third-grade teacher Erica Noy, this adds up to no rug for story-time and no longer allowing book bags on chairs because the children couldn't get in and out of their seats.

The POC also reported that the school is in such poor physical condition that the New York City Board of Education condemned the building, but there are no funds for an alternative site. (Mayor Rudolph Giuliani succeeded in getting his allies on the Board of Education to vote down an $11 billion five-year capital plan for schools in favor of a $7 billion plan last summer, which means District 10 will be allotted only one new school instead of five, making it likely that PS 246 will stay put in its inadequate facility for the foreseeable future.) According to Gonzalez, the windows need to be replaced and the building sometimes leaksatoilets.jpg (15154 bytes) water. The dilapidated and outdated condition of the building was evident to visitors who were led to the boys' bathroom and found toilets, but no stalls to protect the children's privacy.

During and after the bus tour, participants carrying countless banners and signs took to the streets and shouted chants like "Open your eyes! Reduce class size!" The day culminated in a press conference in front of the Kingsbridge Armory on Jerome Avenue, which NWBCCC activists hope to convert into a complex of schools and community uses.

At the press conference, parent leaders repeatedly insisted that their children are being cheated out of an adequate education because of overcrowding. "Teachers don't have enough time to teach well," said PS 90 parent Miriam Correa. "They don't have enough time to go over each child's homework." 

Educators make do as best as they can, parents stressed, but pointed to low math and reading scores as evidence that class size matters. "There's all this media attention about kids not passing," said Ronn Jordan, a member of the NWBCCC Education Committee. "Well, look at the schools. We've got to give [the crowding] some credit [for the problem]."

Parents were joined by Carol Moseley-Braun, an official with the U.S. Department of Education. Moseley-Braun, a former U.S. senator from Illinois, took the opportunity to promote the School Infrastructure Modernization Act of 1999. Under this legislation, $25 billion in bonds would be made available to states and districts over two years to build and modernize schools (see sidebar). Moseley-Braun urged the crowd to call and write their elected officials and push for the bill. She also commended the parents present for bringing attention to the issue.

The POC has drawn an Emergency School Construction Plan that would allot city, state and federal funding for maintenance, school construction and teacher hiring. The plan also proposes strengthening construction oversight by restructuring the New York City School Construction Authority's (SCA) board and by consolidating planning between the SCA and Board of Education's Division of School Facilities. The SCA, formed in 1988, has had frequent troubles finishing schools on time. 

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