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.
Concerned Parent saysOctober 19, 2012 at 9:03 am
Actually I don’t think the entering kindergarten class of 2013 will bear the brunt of the applicant onslaught. It will be worse than 2012, but only two of the four TF Cornerstone buildings will be occupied because the third, with 800 apartments, is not supposed to start leasing until April 2013, and the fourth probably not til the end of 2013. Plus the Rockrose building in Court Square, with 700 additional new rental apartments, will not start being inhabited until April of 2013, too late for Sept ’13 enrollment. With no new local capacity coming on, it is the parents of the classes of 2014, ’15, and ’16 that should be really worried, like I am.
LIC resident saysOctober 19, 2012 at 9:49 am
I agree that the problem still exists, but think that the origin of it lies somewhat deeper. We see in our community that the current system – one that is fully market driven – doesn’t work so well. The ones that have been behind the growth, including the risks, are for-profit organizations, who lack strong incentives to invest in not-for-profit enterprises, like schools and libraries.
The DOE made it clear that it roughly takes 5 years to open a new school, from conception of plan to opening of doors, which means that they will be by definition at least 5 years behind the curve. Thanks to our vocal community and local politicians who have been listening and acting, we’ve been able to keep the pressure on and we’ve certainly made some headway.
Would it be better to plan and design communities more in advance? I personally think so. But when push comes to shove, the slightest efforts towards planning will be perceived as socialist and the price tag in the form of higher taxes will have many people up in arms.
Having said that, I thought it shocking that the DOE reps were so incapable of answering questions and seem to have become prisoners of their own bureaucratic procedures.
In other words, in case this country does end up with more government involvement in urban planning, it would be desirable that those running it, start acting in a more professional way.
underpressuremom saysOctober 19, 2012 at 10:47 am
I second ‘LIC resident’ that the DOE seems to be alarmingly unaware that a change needs to be made in the forecasting system in a reasonable amount of time for the needs of schools in the NYC. The Rockaways examples was a bit unfortunate. I also think Rebecca Rawlins, the DOE Director of Portfolio Planning, is basing the growth on kids already enrolled in school – vs the applicants (huge difference.)
Clearly it is inefficiency or wanting to give the available money to ‘friends’ that seems to be running the system. What other explanation can there be for the HUGE waste of money that was just spent on revamping the gifted and talented test. “… city officials, who signed a three-year, $5.5 million contract with the testing company Pearson, according to the WSJ. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444070104578042783816300100.html How could they possibly spend that kind of money on a ‘nicety’ when we do not have enough schools, seats, teachers, assistant teachers in the NYC school system.
As parents in the community, we need to continue to work with our advocates like the CDEC, the councilmen and women who have been amazing. I believe together as a strong community, we can continue to create change.
CL saysOctober 19, 2012 at 11:25 am
Unfortunately there is a way for the DOE to instantly expand capacity a little: increase class sizes from 25 to the 31 child maximum! I bet that is why the woman from there thinks everyone will get a slot. Of course she is still completely clueless about the huge demand that is about to occur in LIC and how increased class sizes will not suffice.
Anonymous saysOctober 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm
Andrew, as always, my thanks and congrats for your excellent reporting and analysis! It is refreshing that somebody like you has the brains and the courage to report the facts and to add his own analysis without joining the euphoric “life-is-beautiful”chorus of our elected representatives and the hype of the local print media that is desperately craving real estate ads. Within hours, two people had forwarded me your blog post by e-mail which shows that your blog has an important function in our community.
I also reread your excellent post from August (https://lictalk.com/2012/08/16/lic-we-have-a-problem/) with your back-of-the-envelope calculation of the ratio of available elementary school seats. Based on the actual application- and rejection numbers the chances of getting a non-legacy child into the pre-K at P.S. 78 this year was actually closer to 20% than 25%. Secondly, one wildcard is that the chances of getting your kids into public school might actually somewhat increase … because a significant number of parents will throw in bibs and diapers and move to other locales where the chances of getting into private schools are better (and where those schools are better).
Good friends of my wife who were very active in the parent- and child group in our building are leaving LIC and moving to Larchmont where you have an active community of parents and where the quality of the public schools is much higher than in our heterodox school district. We shouldn’t forget that all the drama about “getting in” distracts from the even more important question about the quality of the education at the public schools in our district.
A warning: let’s not blind ourselves by all this talk about the “necessary” red tape when it comes to dealing with the DOE and the inevitability of this large and costly bureaucracy financed by tax payers like you and me: why is the Catholic Church able to run their New York network of much better schools with a staff of only 30 people? Why is the Catholic Church able to run much better schools in a better way with a fraction of the number of people employed as administrators? Who says it has to take 5 years to open a new school?
The Town Hall Meeting demonstrated again that the professional and educated parents in LIC are more able, more knowledgeable, and more interested in analyzing and solving the LIC school problem than the elected officials and the bureaucrats who showed up for the Town Hall Meeting. I don’t think most of us would have passed our exams in grad school or would still be employed if we would have been as incompetent and unprepared as the bureaucrats who showed up at the Town Hall Meeting. Why are we governed and represented by people who seem completely disconnected from the levels of professionalism and competence that we have to demonstrate every day in the jobs that enable us to live in LIC?
Mikey from Queens saysOctober 19, 2012 at 12:41 pm
I don’t even have kids and I’m fired up! No huzzah for you!
Anguished saysOctober 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm
Another point to make is the effect legacies will have on acceptance. As more seats are added, more parents w/ kids already in PS78 and 312 will get automatic acceptances, limiting the number of new openings.