Miller unveils budget plan at crowded Corona school

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Standing in a Queens elementary school believed to be the most overcrowded in the nation, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) unveiled a city council education proposal Monday that would restore funding for school construction through an income tax surcharge on all New Yorkers.

Dubbed “Education First,” the plan is the cornerstone of the Council’s response to the budget proposal Mayor Michael Bloomberg released in February, which called for the Board of Education’s construction budget to be cut 17 percent, or $693 million.

“The Council’s position is no cuts to education,” Miller said during the news conference in a cramped classroom at PS 19 off Roosevelt Avenue in Corona, where he was joined by Queens council members David Weprin (D-Hollis), Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Hiram Monserrate (D-Jackson Heights) and Helen Sears (D-Jackson Heights).

School construction plans delayed under the mayor’s proposal would be reinstated under Miller’s plan, which would leverage $5 billion to build 23 new schools, retrofit 10 others and lease additional classroom space. The income tax surcharge would be spread across all tax brackets, requiring most New Yorkers to shell out an extra $5 or $7 each year.

The plan was enthusiastically endorsed by politicians from Queens, which is the borough with the most overcrowded schools in the city.

“This would help us immensely,” Comrie said.

Nowhere was the need for school construction more evident than PS 19, an elementary school with a student population of 2,170. Although plans to construct a second building alongside the original were pushed out of the five-year capital plan by the mayor’s cuts, the council plan would put it back on track.

“The problem is the teacher can’t help the children because it’s a lot of children at the same time,” said Ana Hernandez of Corona, the Parent Association parent at PS 19. “A couple of dollars. What is a couple of dollars to pay for the education of our children?”

What was once a paved playground sitting alongside the five-story school now houses a line of five trailers, painted in uneven coats of red, that together hold a total of 10 classrooms. Miller’s news conference was held alongside them inside the Magnet School of Bookmaking and Publishing, which was also conceived as a temporary structure but has now sat there for years, according to District 24 Superintendent Joseph Quinn.

The school district also covers the communities of Elmhurst, Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood.

Touting the plan as a clear demonstration of the Council’s commitment to education, Miller challenged Bloomberg and the state Legislature to come forward with their own solution to the crisis in public education.

“Right now, there’s no plan. The plan is to let 42,000 students not have a seat,” Miller said. “Our plan is to fix the crumbling schools, fix the overcrowding, and do it once and for all.”

The proposal stands in clear defiance of the mayor’s persistent refusal to raise taxes, which he believes would stifle economic growth by imposing greater burdens on taxpayers.

But Miller took the position that the cuts that would occur in place of a tax hike are more painful than the tax itself, describing an improved public education system as the best way to attract jobs and development to the city.

“We believe that this is an investment that New Yorkers are prepared to make,” he said. “It’s our responsibility as elected officials to put forward a plan that’s best for the people of the city of New York.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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