City Councilman Mark Treyger (D-Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Gravesend) took the Department of Education (DOE) and the School Construction Agency (SCA) to task during a joint hearing on overcrowding in city schools yesterday.
The joint meeting was between Treyger, the Education Committee Chair, and the Finance and Land Use Committees. The oversight hearing focused on a council report released last month, Planning to Learn: The School Building Challenge.
The report gave a detailed analysis of the space challenges the city’s public school system is facing and a comprehensive set of recommendations to address the ongoing and severe overcrowding that exists in public schools.
“Overcrowding is a serious and chronic problem plaguing city schools. While school overcrowding is not an issue in every community, it is wide spread and likely to get worse in the coming years without adequate interventions,” said Treyger.
According to the latest pulmonary Mayor’s management report, in Fiscal year 2017, 57% of elementary schools, 22% of middle schools and 36% of high schools exceeded capacity and 53% of elementary and middle schools and 46% of high school students city-wide attended an overcrowded school.
The city in recent years has been struggling to keep up with demands in new schools particularly with the demand from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Pre-K and 3-K For All initiatives as well as his record-breaking affordable housing push. In 2017 alone, the mayor financed more than 24,536 affordable homes.
“The city is in a near housing boom, with new developments going up everywhere across the city, including many neighborhoods where schools are already overcrowded. We recognize that there are competing space needs in a city this large, but more housing means we need more schools,” said Treyger.
As part of the report, a five-point plan was recommended to tackle the growing need in seats across the five boroughs including making it easier and faster to build schools, describing the overcrowding problem accurately in regards to data, giving the public and decision makers the information they need, increasing the use of other approaches to reduce overcrowding and foster diversity and exploring new funding strategies.
According to the report, Brooklyn has always had the highest population of school aged individuals, with over 420,000 in 2010. The westernmost sub-districts in Brooklyn have the most identified need including the neighborhoods of Dumbo, Fort Greene, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Red Hook, Park Slope, Sunset Park, Owls Head Park, Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Borough Park, Kensington, and Bensonhurst.
According to the DOE, historically the city agency has not had enough capital funding to construct all of the identified seat need, while the SCA prioritizes funding seats in subdistricts with persistent overcrowding.
“Each year we undertake a public review process with the community education councils, the City Council and other elected officials and community groups. We partner with individual council members and CEC’s to identify local needs,” said Lorraine Grillo, SCA Head.
Treyger went on to highlight the lack of inter-agency communication in siting of schools,“Are there any formal processes through which the SCA is notified of available city-owned or lease spaces that maybe suitable for a school?” Treyger asked.
“Council member we work very closely with the Department of City Planning and DCAS (Department of Citywide Administration Services) and the other agencies. But a formalized but not through a formalized process, I don’t believe so but certainly we have regular communication with all those agencies,” Grillo responded.
According to Grillo, there are only four brokerage firms who work on siting public schools across all five boroughs. The brokers role is to identify a site, investigate a listing and pursue any potential for new seats. This process can take anywhere from a month to a year depending on the property.
Brooklyn and Staten Island share a brokerage firm which is Cornerstone Real Estate Services.
“On average the SCA can deliver a new ground up school in three to four years depending on size,” said Grillo.