Testimony before the New York City Council Committees on Education and Finance
The United Federation of Teachers wants to thank the City Council for its unwavering support of our members and school communities. The work you do makes a difference in the lives of New York City’s 1.1 million students. We commend the efforts of Education Committee Chair Daniel Dromm and Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and thank them and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for the opportunity to speak with you today.
We want every child to attend an excellent neighborhood public school, and we are encouraged to see, under the leadership of Mayor Bill de Blasio and this council, the city is tackling some of the school system’s most intractable issues — overcrowded classes and buildings. The expansion of the city’s capital plan, with tens of thousands of additional seats, will help reduce overcrowded buildings. In turn, these investments will help reduce class size. The result: Children will attend schools with breathing space and appropriately-sized classrooms.
Creating a working group to study issues around school planning, seat development, and overcrowding is an important step. We applaud Speaker Mark-Viverito for this initiative. Anyone looking at all the new residential construction in the five boroughs can see the city needs more schools. We also encourage the Council to foster transparency for both parents and stakeholders regarding how districts are chosen for new schools.
Additionally, we recommend that the city provides additional resources to the School Construction Authority for additional staff in each borough to help identify sites for schools. We believe extra staff would present the city with a larger, more creative list of locations.
Proposed New Seats
The mayor recently proposed tens of thousands of new school seats as part of his 2018 budget, a huge step in the right direction. We look forward to learning details regarding how the city intends to fund them.
We encourage the council and the mayor to explore additional ways to alleviate persistently overcrowded schools as well as develop measures to make seat procurement a transparent and public process. It would also be helpful if the city provided data to explain decisions. This information would give communities confidence that the analysis is fair, comprehensive, and accurate. Community Education Councils and school board meetings could serve as conduits for information to parents and for gathering suggestions from them as well.
The UFT tracks the number of oversized classes and, while the general trend is one of improvement and many issues have been resolved collaboratively between the DOE and the UFT, we and many dedicated advocates believe we still have a lot of room for improvement.
For the past four years, 19 schools have been out of compliance with the UFT’s contractual class sizes. One of the schools this year had more than 20 classes that failed to meet class-size limits. They are listed below, by borough:
BRONX: PS 38 Donald Hertz, the Bronx Green Middle School and the Pelham Academy of Academic and Community Engagement
BROOKLYN: IS 30 Mary White Ovington, JHS 218 James P. Sinnott, IS 281 Joseph B. Cavallaro, the Secondary School for Journalism and the Medgar Evers College Preparatory School
MANHATTAN: JHS 143 Eleanor Roosevelt
QUEENS: PS 49 Dorothy Bonawit Kole, Pathways College Preparatory School, Francis Lewis High School, and Forest Hills High School
STATEN ISLAND: IS 27 Anning S. Prall, Michael J. Petrides School, Tottenville High School, Susan E. Wagner High School, Staten Island School of Civic Leadership and PS 83 Donald Hertz
We recognize the challenges the School Construction Authority has faced in recent years developing sites for new schools. This is why we implore the council to provide funds to the Authority to expand its real estate division and identify a building in each neighborhood that could be used as an annex or new school altogether.
With the recent announcement of 500 new seats at the Francis Lewis High School annex in Queens, we know the School Construction Authority can alleviate the overcrowding issue given the proper resources.
Speaker's Working Group
We think many of Speaker Mark-Viverito’s proposals could result in a faster process to create more seats. We suggest the city look at how other cities site schools, encourage or even mandate developers to include new schools in large developments, and tackle barriers between city agencies that slow progress. We agree with many of advocates that additional school seats are needed as new residential developments are planned. As many young families continue to move into New York City, we must match their needs with local neighborhood public schools. Elementary schools, in particular, should be within a few blocks of students’ homes.
Additionally, when the city opens new facilities, it should evaluate whether including a school or annex would alleviate the problems of a neighborhood school. With land so valuable and scarce, we need to be creative in solving this problem.
We urge that the proposed working group examine the work done by past Blue Book committees as a reference, that it be constituted broadly and get to work immediately in collaboration with the Mayor, City Council, and the School Construction Authority. We look forward to providing any assistance that the council or the speaker may need.
Just as we have worked with the City Council successfully for years to address many issues affecting New York City public schools, we know we will find a way to provide each child with a classroom that creates the optimum environment for learning.
We thank you for your time.