NEWS AND ISSUES


February 6, 2008

Joel I. Klein
Chancellor
New York City Department of Education
52 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007

Dear Chancellor Klein:

We would like to thank the New York City Department of Education (DOE) for sending so many representatives, ably headed by Terence Tolbert, to the meeting at P.S. 199 on January 29, 2008, to address the concerns of our constituents -- the students, parents, teachers, administrators and other staff members of P.S. 199 and the Center School.

As the DOE is aware, overcrowding is a growing problem at P.S. 199, and new residential construction in its catchment area threatens to push the school beyond capacity in the very near future. Already, according to the P.S. 199 PTA Political Action Committee (PTA PAC), since 2000, the number of kindergarten classes at the school has doubled and six cluster rooms have been lost to create classrooms for the school's growing enrollment. The school currently has just two cluster rooms left, and parents fear it will lose one of them this coming fall to accommodate a new first grade class. Like our constituents, we believe in smaller class sizes and have fought and will continue to fight for the funding necessary to make them a reality, however, a commitment to small class sizes at P.S. 199 should not have to come at the expense of over-taxing the school's capacity and depleting beneficial educational space.

PTA PAC statistics indicate that 15% of P.S. 199's current enrollment comes from buildings constructed in the last eight years, and our offices are aware of at least five planned or in-progress residential building projects within the P.S. 199 catchment area. These new developments will add approximately 1,000 units, many of which will be two- and three-bedroom apartments catering to families with school-age children. Without preventive measures, an influx of new students will overwhelm and undermine this high-performing elementary school.

As your staff heard at the January 29 meeting, the P.S. 199 community is looking to DOE not only for a long-term solution to address surging enrollment, such as the construction of a new school, but also for a short-term solution to relieve overcrowding at the start of the 2008-9 school year. Suggestions, informed by extensive study by the School Leadership Team (SLT), included capping enrollment for fall 2008, rezoning or renting of additional classroom space.

The DOE representatives present said they understood P.S. 199's urgent space concerns. While they cited under-enrollment in other District Three schools, they would not entertain capping PS199's enrollment or rezoning without DOE having conducted its own thorough study. Although they acknowledged that the five-year capital plan is a living document, they said there is no funding in the current plan for new school construction, renting or leasing in District Three.

Instead, they promised that, in the near term, they would seek to maximize space currently available with P.S. 199 and the Center School continuing to share the building. We should note, however, that parents felt that those issues had already been addressed on the school level. Towards a long-term solution, the DOE representatives committed to initiate a thorough study into P.S. 199's enrollment patterns and the potential for rezoning, to be completed and presented to the school community in early fall 2008. They pledged that based upon that study's findings, DOE would work with both schools' PTAs, SLTs and other stakeholders on a solution for September 2009 that works for the students of P.S. 199 and the Center School.

They also heard concerns about the potential permanent loss of P.S. 199's cluster rooms that have been or likely will be turned into classrooms to accommodate rising enrollment. They explained that DOE determines cluster room needs based upon school enrollment, and pledged that once the school's capacity issues are ultimately resolved, cluster rooms would be restored to serve that population. Although we appreciate the good faith in which this pledge was made, we respectfully request that the DOE sign a memorandum of understanding detailing this commitment, given the possibility of turnover in the Department, particularly as the current mayoral administration is approaching its end.

As the DOE representatives heard from members of the audience, we would prefer immediate action to relieve the school's overcrowding. Nonetheless, we appreciate the DOE's commitment to expedite a study and work with the school community to arrive at a long-term solution by the start of the 2009-10 school year. In the meantime, we urge the DOE not to dismiss the possibility of negotiating a new school or additional school space from some of the very developers that are bringing increasing numbers of students into P.S. 199's catchment area.

Again, we appreciate the DOE's attention to this matter and look forward to working with you to effectively address these space concerns and preserve the high quality of education at these two exceptional schools.

Sincerely,


Thomas K. Duane
New York State Senate
29th District

Linda B. Rosenthal
New York State Assembly
67th District


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