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Queens Chronicle

Low turnout at August Martin’s DOE hearing

Parents, teachers fear co-located school will strip kids of programs

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Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:30 am

A public hearing on co-locating another school in August Martin High School on Tuesday evening produced some unusual numbers for a Department of Education co-location meeting.

Only about 20 audience members.

Five speakers.

And about 26 minutes from Superintendent Tamika Matheson’s opening address to closing.

The Department of Education is looking to co-locate the proposed district high school 346 in August Martin beginning in September. If approved, the science-and-technology-based school would start with up to 115 freshmen. It would reach a peak of 420 to 460 students in grades 9 through 12 when fully enrolled in the 2017-18 school year.

A proposal last year by the Bloomberg administration to co-locate an elementary-level charter school in the building was roundly condemned in the community and halted by Mayor de Blasio.

The building already houses August Martin’s population, projected to be 785 to 825 in four years; an Alternative Learning Center School with an estimated 60 to 80; and Voyages South, which began phasing in this year and will have 230 to 270.

A DOE formula states that August Martin currently is being used to only 53 percent of capacity, leaving “sufficient space” for the new 346.

The few parents and teachers who spoke on Tuesday begged to differ. They said accommodating a new school will result in a broad reduction of available classes and programs.

Lonai Mosley, a teacher in the school’s communications program, said a new school will ensure the elimination of their modern facilities for communications production.

“Surveyors were recently taking measurements in our studio,” she said after the meeting. “They were saying, ‘Desks could go here, my office could go there.’”

“You’re taking away what August Martin has to offer,” Anyah Walton, president of the August Martin PTA, testified. “You want increased science programs? Great! Give them to the students who are already here.”

And Walton is prepared to challenge any DOE official who claims that August Martin is squandering available space.

“We are not underutilized,” she said. “Our programs exist! Our students are using them. Space is being used. Maybe not the way you want!”

The final speaker in the brief session was Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), who is party to a lawsuit aimed at stopping co-locations. And he said Mayor de Blasio must match his deeds in office to his rhetoric as a candidate, when he excoriated former Mayor Bloomberg on the subject of co-location.

“They’re really not doing what they promised during the campaign,” Wills said. “This community came out for you in spades to get you elected.”

Wills said the DOE obviously would be more impressed had 4,000 people come out to Tuesday’s meeting in protest. But he added that the low turnout should not be viewed as indicative of a lack of opposition.

“I think it’s a sign that after the last 12 years, giving the benefit of the doubt to the new administration, that people are discouraged, that the DOE will just do what it wants,” he said.

Matheson and DOE officials said the city’s Panel on Educational Policy will meet to vote on the proposal on May 29 at 6 p.m. at Murry Bergtraum High School at 411 Pearl St. in Manhattan.

The date was changed from May 6, which was still listed in a notice printed from the DOE’s website about 90 minutes before the meeting on Tuesday.

Members of the public still may offer their input on the plan in writing online at D27Proposals@schools.nyc.gov, or by phone at (212) 374-7621.

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