City Is Planning Major Cuts in the Construction of Schools

From: NY Times

New York City education officials are set to approve a school construction budget on Wednesday that would significantly cut the number of schools to be built in the next three years, as the city faces what it says is a new cap on state construction aid.

The School Construction Authority’s $9.3 billion budget, which covers work through 2014, will go before the Panel for Educational Policy, where it is expected to pass, and will then move to the City Council. Instead of the 56 new schools that the Council approved last year, the budget would support the construction of 26 schools across the city, reducing the number of places for new students to 14,000 from roughly 28,000.

The cuts come as class sizes have swollen in much of the city, a situation serious enough that the city has received a state waiver from court-mandated class size reduction targets for all but 75 of its nearly 1,700 schools.

Between 2005 and 2009, the state matched New York City in school construction financing, resulting in a $13 billion building boom. But with the state facing a huge budget deficit, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has proposed a limit of $2 billion for school construction, with at most half of that going to the city.

Mr. Cuomo’s office, however, argues that the nearly $1 billion in assistance that the city is set to receive next year is more than it provided last year, and that the city’s move to build fewer schools is a result of its spending choices, including a $180 million increase on technology.

In District 24, the heavily crowded area around Corona, Queens, the city’s capital plan last year budgeted new space for 4,300 students; that number has been cut to 2,200. Among the projects that would be delayed are a new gymnasium and classrooms for 120 students at Public School 87 in Middle Village, Queens.

At P.S. 87, students have gym classes in a basement lunchroom, and there are only two bathrooms each for the 600 boys and girls in the school, causing long  lines, said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who represents the district. “The community has waited more than 10 years for this, and it’s pennies in the scope of things,” Ms. Crowley said.

But she said she was hopeful that the State Legislature would restore some of the financing in the budget negotiations in the coming weeks.

In District 2, which includes TriBeCa, Chelsea and the Upper East Side, last year’s plan had provided for eight new schools for 3,666 students; the new blueprint contains construction plans for 1,400 students. Among the projects that would have to wait is a new school that will one day occupy part of the Foundling Hospital in Chelsea. Planning for it can continue.

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