FORUM’S EYES ON EDUCATION
CEC 24 Hears Candidates’ Views
Residents attending the Sept. 22 meeting of Community Education Council District 24 (CEC 24) at the brand-new P.S. 49 in Middle Village learned about the education priorities of the two candidates running for the area’s City Council seat.
Lydon Sleeper, chief of staff for City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, joined Tom Ognibene, who is seeking Crowley’s seat, at the meeting to take questions from the audience.
Crowley did make an appearance before heading to another debate that night at the Greater Woodhaven De velopment Corporation.
“I feel that there’s no greater issue right now facing this city,” she told the crowd.
A mother of a student at I.S. 119, Crowley pointed to her fight to get the Maspeth high school project zoned for District 24 students, the se curing of $5 million in capital funds for area educational institutions and her endorsement by the United Fed eration of Teachers and the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, which represents school principals and faculty members.
Ognibene, for his part, referred to his time in the City Council from 1991 to 2001, saying that “not much seems to have changed.”
“The same problems that we con fronted when I was a Council mem ber, we have to confront again,” he added.
Ognibene noted that “overcrowd ing is once again a significant issue, and it really has to be addressed,” claiming that the area needs a dedi cated community high school to alle viate the problem, and that the area needs “people that have the knowl edge, the experience and leadership to sit down and fight” for it.
One of the first questions had to do with that same topic, with the res ident asking what each candidate would do to reduce overcrowding.
Ognibene explained that, instead of relying on the School Construc tion Authority, he would look for available sites and persuade the city to purchase them; if building a school there is found to be infeasible, the city can always sell or lease the prop erty.
Sleeper pointed to Crowley’s ef forts in convincing the Department of Education to consider modifying the catchment zoning of area schools to create a “fair and equitable distribu tion” of District 24 students through out schools and alleviate overcrowding.
Local activist David Quintana challenged Ognibene on his support of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, claiming that he has “failed our schools over the past eight years.”
Ognibene replied that while he did support Bloomberg’s bid for re election (calling him “head and shoulders ahead of whoever’s run ning against him”), he disagreed with the mayor’s stance on school control, claiming that parents need to have more input than they currently do.
Sleeper noted that Crowley has pushed hard for more parent involve ment in any legislation to renew mayoral control.
Pressed on more specific initia tives for parent involvement by CEC 24 Member Peter Vercessi, Sleeper claimed that Crowley would con tinue to help fund groups like the Beacon Parents Forum.
He added that Crowley advocated changes to the Panel For Educational Policy, specifically the addition of seats for parents, to increase parent involvement.
Ognibene, on the other hand. felt that there was a case for suing the city, noting that he has successfully litigated against the city when he was in the City Council.
“You do have some remedies,” he told the crowd. “That would wake the mayor up.”
Contract for Excellence
New superintendent Madeline Taub Chan delivered a presentation on how the district is using the funds from the Contract for Excellence (C4E) program, and took questions on it from the public.
The majority of the $19.6 million alloted to District 24 from the pro gram this school year which con sists of aid from the state that must be targeted toward certain initia tives went to reducing class sizes, although Taub Chan noted that the increase in spending didn’t necessar ily equate to more teachers, due to raises in teacher salaries.
The $19.6 million amount given to District 24 is the same amount as the previous school year, represent ing a “maintenance of effort,” ac cording to Taub Chan. However, schools could choose to divert the monies toward different initiatives.
Quintana called this “an inade quate presentation of the real situa tion,” claiming that class sizes increased despite C4E monies going to reduce them, and urging CEC 24 to pass a resolution urging the state to withhold C4E funds until the city follows through “on its legal and moral commitments and reduces class size.”
Former CEC 24 member Marge Kolb, who heads the CEC 24 PTA Presidents’ Council, wondered why principals could not choose to spend some of the C4E monies toward uni versal pre kindergarten programs. Currently, the DOE decides where a pre kindergarten program will run.
The DOE’s Sandy Brawer ex plained that the C4E money is specif ically targeted to expand half day pre K programs to a full day pro gram, and that the DOE has a process in place to determine which schools are suitable for full day pre K pro grams.
“We know that this district does n’t have nearly the number of pre K seats that it would like to have,” he said. “When you look at the district and you look at the space that’s avail able, there aren’t tremendous amounts of places that you can open pre K classes in schools.”
Board 5’s Robert Cermelli noted that the plan to reduce class size by adding teachers to classrooms could only do so much, and wondered if there was any long term plan in place.
“You need more space; space is of the essence here,” Taub Chan admit ted, but noted that “I don’t have an other solution” other than the long awaited catchment area rezon ing plan.
Brawer added that the lack of space has led to conflicting needs; some parents are seeking pre kinder garten classes while others want their school to have a Beacon program.
Parents at P.S./I.S. 87 in Middle Village came to CEC 24 begging for an extension, claiming that their learning facilities are inadequate.
“The teachers need a proper place to teach,” one parent pleaded. “We only need a cafeteria, a gym that’s proper in height so our kids can run and play and get physical education, and bathrooms that are up to code.”
They accused the DOE of treating the school as the “special needs school,” noting that about one third of P.S./I.S. 87 is populated by spe cial needs pupils even though the school is zoned to receive only five percent of them.
“There is not an equitable distri bution,” said the same parent.
Taub Chan promised to visit the school to inspect the facilities.
Taub Chan reported that Public Schools 49, 102, 113 and 128 all “had a very successful opening this year.”
She also noted that the city has developed a plan to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus that closed several schools over the previous school year; this program may in volve vaccinations.
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