A plan to ease overcrowding at PS/IS 49 in Middle Village was unanimously rejected by District 24’s Community Education Council on Nov. 27.
The proposal changed the zone boundaries of the school, located at 63-60 80 St. to allow some sections of Middle Village zoned for PS/IS 49 to be moved to within the boundaries of PS/IS 128 at 69-10 65 Dr., about a half mile west of PS/IS 49 and PS 102 on Van Horn Street in Elmhurst.
Under the plan, sections of Middle Village east of 76th Street between Eliot and Penelope avenues zoned for PS/IS 49 would have been placed in PS/IS 128’s zone, while the extreme northwest corner of the neighborhood to 83rd Place and Eliot Avenue would move into the zone covered by PS 102, which is on the other side of the Long Island Expressway.
According to the city Department of Education, PS/IS 49 is operating at 130 percent capacity, but Nick Comaianni, president of District 24, said both PS 128 and PS 102 are also operating at over 100 percent capacity and the rezoning plan would have done little to solve the overcrowding problem.
“To us it wasn’t a plan,” he said. “It wasn’t a sensible rezoning to do.”
The end result, would have been three schools with the same level of overcrowding, Comaianni explained.
City DOE Spokesman Harry Hatfield said the agency would still look for ways to ease the overcrowding problem in the district.
“We will continue to work with the community and CEC to explore all options to help alleviate overcrowding,” he said.
District 24, which includes Middle Village, Elmhurst, Maspeth, Glendale, Ridgewood and Corona, is one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city. There are four new elementary schools, one PS/IS building and one middle school either in planning or under construction in District 24. These new schools will add 4,211 seats to the district between September 2014 and September 2016.
In addition to the 4,211 seats under construction, the proposed capital plan would create 4,045 seats in seven new buildings in District 24. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, elected officials and community leaders in District 24 have established a task force to focus on the overcrowding issue.
But Comaianni said the problem needs to be solved by added even more seats. He acknowledged that it was impossible to build more schools in Middle Village due to lack of space, but said he asked the School Construction Authority to study the feasibility of building extensions at PS/IS 49 and PS/IS 128 and would like to find a location for an annex at PS 49 until an extension is built.
He added that he would also like to see rezoning put back into the hands of the district itself.
“If we approve the plan, it would make more sense for us to make the plan,” Comaianni said, further noting that the CEC and superintendent understand the specific communities in District 24 better than those at the DOE.
Since 2003, the DOE said it has added over 126,000 new seats, of which over 41,000 are in Queens, and have proposed spending an additional $3.9 billion on capacity in the 2015-19 capital plan.
The DOE also planned a separate rezoning of the district’s middle schools that would put students in Corona living around LeFrak City out of the zones served by Corona’s IS 61, which is operating at over 120 percent capacity, and into one that would send them to IS 73 in Maspeth, which will have space once a co-located elementary school there, PS 290, moves into its own building on Metropolitan Avenue next year. A new middle school, IS 331, is slated to open in North Corona, that will take the pressure off IS 61. The CEC rejected that rezoning as well, arguing that it was too early to know how much free space they’ll have at the school once PS 290 moves out.
“We want to actually see how much room there is at [IS 73] before we rezone more kids there,” Comaianni said.
He noted the problem with middle school overcrowding is centered mainly in Corona where illegal apartments housing families are a major problem. Because many families live in those apartments, the DOE is unable to use reliable Census information to know exactly how many students they have in the neighborhood.
“The Buildings Department has to do it’s job and crack down on illegal apartments,” he said.
Comaianni said middle schools in the district, such as IS 77 in Glendale, actually have space, but are too far from Corona.
He added he is waiting to see how the incoming de Blasio administration will handle the issue and hopes he will allow the district to have more control over rezoning.