Vol. 12, No. 18 Sept. 23 - Oct. 6, 1999



     
 

New Schools Bring Relief, but Space Struggle Lingers

By HANNAN ADELY

xschools.jpg (19846 bytes)Five new elementary schools opened their doors this month in District 10-- including three in Norwood and Fordham Bedford-- adding 3,000 new seats to the space-starved school district. The new seats provide some relief, but with most schools still well over capacity, parents and educators insist that many more seats are needed.

From 1994 to 1997, District 10 picked up 1,500 children a year before finally leveling off, according to Bruce Irushalmi, a spokesman for District 10 Superintendent Irma Zardoya. The district coped by converting gymnasiums, libraries and offices into classrooms, and, in some cases, by putting over 50 children in a room with two teachers. The district also put portable classrooms in play yards and leased space off school grounds.

With the addition of five new schools, seating capacity has increased to 41,000, Irushalmi said. The catch is that all 6,500 non-traditional seats (portables, leased spaces, and specialty rooms in schools) are included in that figure.

"There's a seat for every child," Irushalmi said."It's just that we're using seats we shouldn't be using, like art and music studio seats."

Schools See Some Relief

So what impact will the new schools have? Isabel Colon said that last year at PS 86 her son started the year in a class of 53 students and two teachers. The class was later divided and 33 to 35 kids were in each room. This year, Colon's son attends PS 340, a new school behind PS 86, and there are just 23 kids in his class. More students are expected to join the class, but Colon is still thrilled about the improvement."It's a relief for both him and myself," she said.

Even with the new seats, the district can't begin to think about getting rid of the legion of transportables and leased annexes in the district. But some schools, like MS 80 and PS 280, which shared a building on Mosholu Parkway for years and now each have their own facilities, will be able to free up some spaces for administrative and other uses.

"It's given us some breathing room to move children and staff into more appropriate places," said Lawrence Gluck, principal of MS 80. With PS 280 in its own building, MS 80 was able to move its guidance counselor, social worker and school support team into real offices."The staff had offices in closets," Gluck said."Literally, they came out of the closets." The school was also able to open up a dance studio, health complex and a computer room.

Gluck estimated that 1999 enrollment at MS 80 will settle at around 1,200. If so, the school's capacity will be reduced to a relatively low 105 percent.

Principal Gary LaMotta of PS 280, is enthusiastic about his school's new home."It's a lot better," he said."It's a brand new, beautiful building." MS 80 and PS 280 will continue to share the cafeteria, gym and nurse's office.

"The new school is fantastic," said Lisette Wigintton, whose son attends 2nd grade at PS 280."The only thing I'm not happy about is the kids don't have a play area. The mini-school [transportable classrooms in backyard] should be knocked down." Even with the construction of the new building, PS 280 will continue to use the transportable building in its yard, which houses four classrooms.

Combining the portable classrooms and the new main building's 18 classrooms, PS 280's capacity is about 560, LaMotta said. At publication time, the school's enrollment was 580. It's a vast improvement from last year, when the school's 12 classrooms (and converted offices) housed 480 students.

For MS 80 and PS 280, the additional seats, coupled with a classroom cap, allow for more elbow room than Gluck and LaMotta have seen in years. At PS 280, kindergarten is capped at 25, grades one to three are capped at 28, and grades four to five are capped at 32. If the number of students exceed the maximum, then office space would be converted or students might be transferred. (If a school shows a history of overcrowding, the United Federation of Teachers union can bring a grievance before an arbitrator, who decides whether or not the cap should be enforced.)

Overcrowding Remains Reality for Many Schools
At many local schools, capacity stretches well above 100 percent. At PS 33, one of the most severely crowded schools in the district, capacity is at 154 percent, according to preliminary statistics compiled by the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition's Education Committee, even though an annex opened up last year.

Hilda Burgos, whose daughter attends fourth grade at PS 33, said the new schools haven't helped PS 33 at all."It got better with the annex, but now it's almost back to the way it was," she said. Burgos explained that the school's library functions as a classroom and that classes are sometimes held in the lunchroom and auditorium.

PS 33 wasn't affected because new schools didn't absorb any of PS 33's excess students. The three new schools in the area-- PS 54, PS 340 and PS 360-- received students previously zoned for PS 8, 46, 86, 246 and 310.

At PS 246, where 500 students were transferred to PS 340, overcrowding has diminished but is far from gone. Enrollment last year was at about 1,100 students and now is approximately 1,000 students, according to Frank Gonzalez, the school's principal. But the school's capacity is only 784.

And at PS 8 in Bedford Park, where 75 students were sent to PS 54, the new school on Webster Avenue, enrollment is about the same as last year, according to the school's principal, Robert Weinstein.

Weinstein and other principals say enrollment is increasingly impacted by a large number of children moving into the community, and particularly by an influx of Kosovar refugees. As a popular area for immigrants, Gonzalez noted,"a natural disaster in another part of the world could affect us. Right now it's a matter of wait and see."  

But Irushalmi maintains that, overall, immigration did not seriously affect enrollment this past year."The Kosovo influx didn't have a significant impact," he said."There's no alarming increase in population or in the number of immigrants," he said.

Kindergarten Kids Face Space Crunch
Because of space problems, some kindergartners are being turned away from their zoned schools.

Sarai Colon's child should have begun kindergarten at PS 257 this academic year, a kindergarten-only school that absorbs kids from all over the district. But because the school was filled, she will likely be bused to PS 360 in Kingsbridge. Right now, the child is at home, while her registration is pending."I'm still waiting for a response," Colon said.

Parents like Colon worry about sending their young children on the buses."If anybody should be bused, it should be the older kids," Colon said.

About 120 kids in PS 257's kindergarten and first grade classes are bused each morning.

Irushalmi said the district is doing the best it can under the circumstances."Now, we're busing less than half of kindergartners than we did in 1994," he said.

The Struggle Continues
Even with the marked increase in seats, District 10 will remain one of New York City's most overcrowded districts. Parents and education activists, who campaigned for the five new schools, say the fight for school space is not over. And last May, local schools suffered a major setback, when the Board of Education approved a five-year capital plan that would provide funds for just one new school in District 10. (The initial plan would have approved six schools, but was overruled by Mayor Giuliani and his supporters on the Board of Education.)

Education activists like Ronn Jordan, who is a member of the Coalition's education committee, vow to keep campaigning for more schools."The new schools are great, but people need to realize we're still 2,000 seats short," Jordan said. 

PS 94 Annex Not Ready for First Day of School

PS 94's new annex at the old Otis Elevator Building on Gun Hill Road was not ready for the first day of school, but is expected to open in October. The building, which is owned by Montefiore Medical Center and is being leased to the Board of Education is still undergoing renovations.

According to Dart Westphal, who is overseeing the project for Montefiore as president of Mosholu Preservation Corporation, the not-for-profit affiliate of the medical center that also publishes the Norwood News, construction modifications caused the delays. The Board of Education put in requests that the lunchroom and classrooms be switched around. And there were delays in the manufacturing of the windows."There was no particular huge problem," Westphal said."All these things just take time."

Delays were also incurred because the project started so late. Although Montefiore signed the lease in February, the Board of Education didn't sign off until June."If everything went perfectly, we would have been done on time," Westphal said.

But things are running smoothly at PS 94, Irushalmi said, because enrollment is the same as last year, and the principal is using the same seating plan.

When it does open, the two-floor building will provide five classrooms for up to 125 kindergartners from PS 94.

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