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Queens Chronicle

Task force tackles overcrowded Queens schools

Newly formed task force seeks to tackle issues in districts 24 and 30

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Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:48 am, Thu May 9, 2013.

Members attending the inaugural meeting of the Education Task Force convened by Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-Corona) last Thursday were asked to keep an eye out for lots and empty buildings that could be utilized to combat overcrowding in school districts 24 and 30.

At PS 142 students start lunch at 9:30 a.m. and only attend physical education four months out of the year, one parent said.

Peter Lamphere, a math teacher at Pan American International High School, a high school for Spanish-speaking students who have lived in the United States for less than four years, and parent Solange Peguero spoke of how a co-location in their building has jeopardized the theater classes and stressed programs for the school’s disabled student population.

PS 19 Principal Genie Calibar griped that 500 of her students frequently walk through the snow and rain to get between the school’s 11 portable units and the main building.

“Our transportables are fixtures that should have never become permanent,” Calibar said.

Each person had his or her reasons for attending the meeting.

The task force includes Community Education Council members, parents, politicians, Department of Education representatives, and Student Leadership Team and Make the Road New York members.

A report released by advocacy group Make the Road New York says that 54 percent of the schools in the borough are overcrowded, with districts 24 and 30 strained the most. District 24 is the third most-overutilized one in the city with most buildings operating at 111 percent capacity, the report said, and District 30 ranks in as the sixth most-crowded district in the city, with an average utilization rate of 104 percent.

During the last 12 years the Department of Education added 20,000 seats to Jackson Heights, Corona, Astoria, Woodside, Sunnyside, Long Island City and East Elmhurst, according to School Construction Authority President Lorraine Grillo, and five schools in the two districts, with about 3,000 more seats, are slated to open during the next three years.

Projected population growth compiled by MTRNY shows even more seats will be needed.

By 2019 the report predicts about 9,000 more students attending class in District 24 and 1,000 more in District 30.

“We have built a lot in the districts, but we need to build more,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said.

These feats don’t happen as quickly as the community and school agencies would want, Grillo pointed out. There’s a lengthy process.

The site must first be identified. Then a feasibility study assesses if the land offers enough frontage and space. Next the SCA conducts an environmental study.

After these studies, the sites go through the public approval process, and “that’s not always easy,” Grillo said.

Community boards and residents have successfully stopped new schools in the past.

Ferreras urged members to attend its public meetings and lobby for the locations.

Next the school is designed, bidded on and lastly, constructed.

“Contact us about sites,” Ferreras said. “We all walk the districts. Be nosy.”

Grillo and Walcott emphasized that leasing buildings is a quicker fix to overcrowding. Although leased buildings must be remodeled and undergo an environmental study, the sites are not subjected to an official public review process — though the SCA seeks community input, Grillo said — nor a feasibility study.

The quicker process creates room faster.

Most buildings are leased for 15 to 30 years on average, Grillo said. Once in a Queens district a building was leased for two years as a temporary fix.

Another issue that the task force addressed and will continue to work on is use of the portable units. New trailers have not been installed in the last 12 years, Grillo said, but their deteriorating condition poses a problem.

The DOE and the SCA would like to replace them, but the transportables can’t be removed until the students are assigned to other schools.

That is a difficult task in the filled-to-the-brim districts.

One success story happened in January when the SCA announced it would build an annex at District 30’s PS 11 in place of the transportables. CEC 30 Co-President Jeff Guyton said the nearby, not-yet-completed PS 339 could act as a swing school.

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