Department of Education representatives got an icy reception last Thursday from a crowd of more than 100 when they came to Jamaica to discuss co-locating schools next year in MS 72 and PS 40.
The DOE is pushing to locate a new middle school — MS 332, inside the existing MS 72 for the 2014-15 school year. Plans also call for a new PS 312 to be co-located inside of PS 40.
Representatives of the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Management were in attendance at Thursday’s meeting of Community Education Council 28.
“We sent a request to the Department of Education asking that this be pushed back until the new mayor takes office,” Deborah Dillingham, president of CEC 28, said.
The request was denied.
“This is being done to give parents in your district more options,” said Savita Iyengar, director of planning for the Office of Portfolio Management, or OPM.
She said the schools would be district schools, with spaces filled via normal procedures and students within the district given a priority.
Beverley Philips, a PS 40 parent, had her doubts about co-location being just another beneficial option.
“Are you doing it in Forest Hills?” she asked.
Dean Guzman, an associate planner with the DOE, said the new elementary school would have between 45 and 55 students per grade for grades K through 5; and the new middle school between 90 and 100.
Then he said the new students would have no negative impact on the current students, saying, for example, that MS 72 with just over 1,100 students was only at 63 percent of building capacity, and would be at 86 percent with some 300 to 400 more.
That was too much for parents and a principal whose own school used to be co-located in 72.
“When we were there, the principal of 72 had to walk the halls during standardized tests so students could take tests in her office,” said Deborah Burnett-Worthy, principal of the York Early College Academy.
“Where is all this space you are talking about?” asked Mahalia Prescod-Onuzuruike, the PTA president at 72. “Do you mean hallways? You don’t have space if you have children taking classes in the library!”
Prescod-Onuzuruike said the school took in refugees from schools damaged by Hurricane Sandy, and that the new children were welcomed by a caring, compassionate student body.
“But eventually, they got on each other’s nerves,” she said.
Guzman said the new school would help reduce class sizes, something Prescod-Onuzuruike said was the wrong approach.
“Give us more teachers and you will have smaller classes,” she said, adding that more students only will make conditions at a crowded school worse when it comes to sharing the cafeteria, library and other common areas.
“One day my child will show up and will have lunch scheduled at nine in the morning,” she said.
Parent Rondell Ross concurred, saying whatever Mayor Bloomberg intends to spend on the new school would go a lot farther at the existing ones.
“They’re taking money and resources from schools where there are already some concerns,” he said.
Ronald Robertson, a teacher at 72, thinks the move might be a prelude to closing the school.
“It happened at a school I worked at in Brooklyn,” he said. “First they add more children to the new school and then say ‘Seventy-two is not gaining any students,’” he said. “Then they begin to phase it out.”
Shruti Garg, the education liaison with the office of City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), attended to exchange contact information with concerned parents.
But she added that Wills cannot fight the battle alone.
“When he acts, he’s going to need your support,” Garg said. “He’s going to need your backing.”
The DOE will hold a public hearing on the PS 40 co-location at 6 p.m. on Oct. 9 at PS 40, located at 109-20 Union Hall Street.
The hearing at MS 72 is at 6 p.m. on Oct. 22 at 133-25 Guy R. Brewer Blvd.
The DOE’s Panel for Education Policy will then vote on both matters at 6 p.m. on Oct. 30 at the Prospect Heights Campus at 883 Classon Ave. in Brooklyn.
But with Mayor Bloomberg controlling eight of the 13 votes, many parents feel it is a fait accompli.
Nevertheless, District 28 Superintendent Beverly Ffolkes-Bryant told the standing-room-only crowd that they must be present in number at both public hearings if there is to be any chance to stop the co-locations.
“Come to the hearings and sign up to speak,” she said. “We will be there all night until the last person who wants to speak gets to speak. But in the past, people come to meetings and then I’m sitting up there at the public hearings with 10 parents present ...”
The PS 40 hearing is the same night and at the same time as the hearing in District 29 for the proposed co-location of a new school inside of IS 59 in Cambria Heights.
The timing last Wednesday struck members of Community Board 12 as suspicious.
“It’s no coincidence that they are scheduling public hearings at the same time throughout the city,” said the Rev. Bishop Charles Norris Sr., pastor of Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church and a member of CB 12.