Queens public schools are overcrowded and underfunded: Katz

Queens is the largest borough geographically and is the second most populous borough throughout New York City, but has the most overcrowded schools and the smallest per-pupil spending citywide, according to a report issued earlier this year by Borough President Melinda Katz.

While schools in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx are under capacity, elementary schools, high schools, and combined public and middle schools, as well as combined middle school and high schools, are overcrowded in Queens, according to Katz’s report. Only middle schools are under capacity.

“Queens public schools are at 106 percent capacity,” said Deputy Borough President Sharon Lee at a Borough Board meeting in Kew Gardens on Monday. “We have 16,654 more students than the number of seats available.”

Staten Island trails behind Queens in terms of overcrowding, according to Lee. It has more than 1,054 students than seats.

“While we were first in overcrowding,” said the deputy borough president. “We were also last in funding.”

The city spends $11,359 per pupil in Queens, according to the report. The remaining boroughs receive spend $12,567 to $14,186 per pupil.

Despite having 221,446 pupils, the largest student body in New York City, the borough’s elementary, PS/IS, IS/PS and middle schools are the least funded citywide, according to the report. Its high schools are the second least funded in the city, topping only Staten Island, which has 43,607 pupils – the smallest student body population throughout the city.

Four of the top five most crowded school districts are in Queens, according to Lee.

School district 25, 26, 24 and 28 were ranked second, third, fourth and fifth respectively for student overcrowding, according to Katz’s Feeling the Squeeze: The State Of Our Overcrowded And Underfunded Public Schools report.

To alleviate the overcrowding, Katz had reached out to the School Construction Authority, which has dedicated nearly $3 billion to fund the creation of more than 25,478 new seats until 2023.

In 2018, P.S. 298 opened with 796 seats in Corona, according to Benjamin Goodman, the community affairs manager of SCA. In 2019, a new school in Woodside and additions made to schools in Forest Hills and Richmond Hill led to 1,674 more seats.

Upcoming projects from 2020 to 2023 include additions, annexes and the creation of 19 schools to complete reach the SCA goals for new seats for students.

“We are dedicated to building and modernizing schools in a responsible, cost-effective manner while achieving the highest standards of excellence of safety, quality and integrity,” said the SCA.

Most of the school capital plans were for Western Queens, and with Downtown Jamaica seeing new development Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Far Rockaway, Laurelton) inquired if more seats will be included in the future for that area during the Sept. 16 meeting.

“The SCA is a capacity program,” said Goodman. “It is updated on an annual basis, so every November we release new projections in what we see in trends, population growth, school overcrowding within neighborhoods.”

South Jamaica, Rochdale and Kew Gardens have funding for 572 new seats, but the SCA is still working on locking down a new school site, according to Goodman.

“I will be knocking on your door in a few weeks because the next [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure is coming,” said Richards.

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