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Queens Chronicle

No easy answers on overcrowding

City acknowledges problems in Dist. 24, but new schools are years away

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Posted: Thursday, December 1, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:01 pm, Thu Dec 8, 2011.

Everyone acknowledges that schools are overcrowded in Queens, and that those in District 24 are the most overcrowded.

But other than construction, which will not add new classroom space until 2013-15, answers and options are few right now.

Mary Leas, senior manager of external affairs for the Department of Education’s School Construction Authority, told parents that Queens is getting the most funding in the city to address capacity problems in the current five-year capital improvement budget.

“You are getting the most money because you have the worst overcrowding problem,” Leas said on Nov. 24 to more than 70 parents at a meeting of Community Education Council 24

Leas and Nick Comaianni, president of CEC 24, repeated the sobering truth to parents at the meeting: Queens has the most overcrowding in New York City; District 24 has the most overcrowding in all of Queens; and the Corona area has the most overcrowding in District 24.

Don’t quote statistics on overcrowding in Corona to state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst).

He already knows them.

“There has to be a state of emergency declared to finally end nearly 30 years of school overcrowding and conditions you’d expect to see in undeveloped countries, not the greatest city in the world,” Peralta said in an email.

“The limited resources available need to be focused exclusively on the areas where they are most needed,” he said. “And they are most needed here.”

School construction dollars are being poured into the Corona-Elmhurst-LeFrak City area to deal with capacity. But all are at least a year away from opening their doors.

PS 287 at 110-08 Northern Blvd. is scheduled to open in 2013. PS 315 at 96-18 43 Ave. in Corona is slated to open in 2014.

IS 311 at 97-11 44th Ave. and PS/IS 298 at 50-51 98th St. are scheduled to open for students in 2015.

But while the city has identified a need for more than 4,300 seats in District 24, there currently is funding for just over 2,600. And construction in and of itself is not always the panacea.

“When are you going to deal with crowding in [PS] 143?” parent Mary Navarez asked the council.

Comaianni replied that PS 307, built a few blocks away, was opened in 2008 specifically to handle some overflow from 143. But he also said the prudent way to fill new schools is to begin with kindergarten classes and then add one grade per year.

He said new buildings with vacancies are considered and used for overflow in emergencies, though he added that is not the optimal situation.

CEC members also said the city is getting away from portable classroom trailers.

Elsewhere in District 24, PS 313 in Maspeth and PS 290 in Ridgewood are scheduled to open in 2014.

An addition to PS 87 in Middle Village is on schedule to take students in 2013.

The latter move may make PS 87 more able to handle children who could be redistricted out of the PS 49 feeder district in Middle Village. CEC 24 has twice postponed votes on a plan to shrink PS 49’s district, again to alleviate overcrowding.

While officials said they shared parents’ frustration, Peralta does not share officials’ patience.

“Until there’s a seat for every child, it’s a game of musical chairs,” he said. “No matter what you do, how you zone or rezone, someone is left standing.”

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