Van Buren HS lab funds held up by city: Leffler

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City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) said this week the Board of Education has withheld funding for a new science lab at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village for several months, but a spokeswoman for the Board of Ed was not aware of the problem.

A spokeswoman for Leffler said the funding for the new labs has been held by the Board of Ed without explanation since June in a portion of the budget also designated for air-conditioning.

But Margie Feinberg, the Board of Ed spokeswoman, said the agency is reviewing plans for new science labs in schools across the city. She was not aware of funding problems at Van Buren and said she could not speak about what she called "a local issue."

Van Buren High School was supposed to have new science labs two years ago, Principal Peter Goldfien said, when the Board of Ed was designating funding for new science labs in schools throughout the city.

Instead of new equipment, students at the school have been stuck with science facilities from the mid-1950s because Van Buren was cut out of the second phase of the city's plans to renovate science facilities in 1998, Goldfien said.

Leffler put funding for Van Buren's science labs into the July 1999-2000 discretionary capital funding budget and got approval from the City Council and the Board of Education, said Susan Seinfeld, a Leffler spokeswoman.

But those funds were held up as well.

"During a followup with the school we heard that the School Construction Authority never got a work order," Seinfeld said. "The funding is being held up over a decision to air-condition the schools."

But Goldfien said he was never told that.

"There were no explanations," he said. "We were only told that the money was tied up. I'm not quite sure what the catch was."

Leffler is not sure either, which is why the councilman wrote a letter to Interim Schools Chancellor Harold Levy March 1 requesting the release of the funds for Van Buren.

"I have been advised by the Council's Finance Division that the board is holding the science lab funds in a budget line for technology and air-conditioning," Leffler wrote. "The fact that this money has remained unused for nine months while the Board of Education ponders whether or not to air-condition the schools is unacceptable and is a disservice to our students."

In the original bid to renovate the science labs, the school went through several site visits in 1997 and construction was planned for the summer of 1998, Goldfien said. The work was canceled after Martin Van Buren became one of about three Queens schools dropped from the second phase of the city's science renovation plans, Goldfien said.

Seinfeld, who is in charge of education issues for Leffler, said while there has been no response to the councilman's letter from the chancellor's office, she faxed it to William Thompson, who is president of the Board of Education, last week.

"We're very disappointed because the school needs this," she said.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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