The Town Hall Meeting last night on the Long Island City school situation is best summed up in one word: disheartening. If the meeting was a microcosm of what is currently going on in Washington, then it really doesn’t matter who is elected President next month, the system is simply broken. To start, I will give you a recap of the prepared part of the meeting.
The room was filled to capacity with several dozen people standing. For the first 17 minutes, the panel of roughly ten people on the dais were individually introduced and given the microphone for a quick speech, during which each person pretty much thanked everyone including the audience multiple times, a la the academy awards. The next 25 minutes consisted of a lot of not-so-new information about the new school buildings that one would expect from anything newly built: amenities such as a gym and auditorium, fully air conditioned, 5 stories tall, the requisite “green” certification of a level not quite super-platinum, the fact that it is on schedule to open in September of 2013, yadda, yadda, yadda. You get the picture: all that was conveyed to the audience was only good news, nothing was really unexpected, and anything overly controversial was still to-be-determined.
Next came the Q&A. There were questions about pre-K availability, there were questions about zoned vs. non-zoned for the high school, there were questions about gifted and talented programs, and there were questions from people from Sunnyside, who are worried enough about the seat/school shortage in they are experiencing in their neighborhood to venture to LIC to get some answers. I cannot tell you what the responses were to these questions because each panel member added their own snippet, but in my mind the end result was always inconclusive.
So let’s now focus on what I have determined to be the biggest problem: the shortage of available seats in each kindergarten class beginning next year(September 2013) and going forward through at least 2017, versus the greatly increasing number of applicants due to all the new apartments that have been and are being built. For a reference, I urge you to read my previous post outlining the estimates of these two numbers. When the panel was pressed for actual numbers, none were forthcoming. When given actual numbers regarding last years available seats vs. applicants and solely asked to respond “Yes” or “No”, members of the DOE and the School Construction Authority were unable to do so. When given actual numbers about the four new TF Cornerstone buildings on Center Boulevard and how many new applicants 2500 apartments would generate, they could not answer “Yes” or “No.” As specific numbers kept being proffered, nothing specific was offered in return. As an example of how completely out of touch the School Construction Authority is with what is happening in LIC, Monica Gutierrez, a project support manager at the SCA offered up this completely unrelated anecdote in defense of why nothing has been done here despite all the new buildings: In the Rockaways, they built an enormous amount of new condos, but they didn’t sell, thus there ended up not being the need for new school capacity. Huh? How is that relevant to the situation in LIC where all the new residential buildings are rentals and thus rents are priced wherever they need to be to fill the buildings? The extent to which several members of the panel were completely unprepared for this meeting was astounding. As the specific numeric questions kept going unanswered, a sense of futility crept in about these meetings, where nothing is accomplished, and after the initial euphoria, huzzahs emanate mostly from the panel. Furthermore, despite overwhelming evidence of the train wreck about to occur next year, the DOE and SCA are still in a complete state of denial. They are basically bureaucrats telling us everything is fine, but refusing to acknowledge any actual numbers showing a massive shortfall. Here are two gems from Rebecca Rawlins, the DOE Director of Portfolio Planning, regarding next year’s kindergarten slots in Hunters Point. Both were delivered after the contretemps requesting numbers:
“There will be enough spaces for the kids who will be in the zone”
“We don’t expect to see a spike in kindergarten applicants for next year”
You get the picture? As for the politicians on the panel, aka the usual crew at these events, my sense is they share parents frustrations and sense of futility, but do not play a very big role in this whole process and have minimal leverage with the powers making the actual decisions. Nevertheless, they do not get a free pass, not when they expect to take credit and congratulatory bows simply because two brand new schools are nearing completion in their districts. The fact remains that the kindergarten shortfall will be greater than before they were being built. Yes, while the absolute numbers of seats has increased, the absolute number of applicants has to a greater extent. Thus the number of rejections has increased in absolute terms. More importantly, you cannot say “at least it’s better than it was” when the relative rate of acceptance goes from 65% in 2012 to an estimated sub-50% in 2013!!! You cannot celebrate failure and you cannot celebrate mediocrity when it comes to a meeting on the school issue and faced with these numbers.
Here is the Bottom Line on the state of the schools in LIC: If you have a child born between 2008 and 2012 and was planning on sending them to a public elementary school within walking distance, there is a very good possibility they will not get accepted locally. So have a back up plan or adjust to the idea that you may have to leave LIC, as no new school capacity will be added in time to accommodate your children.