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Budget cuts squeeze out boro school construction

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One of the worst nightmares of the Queens educational community came true last week when Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled a city budget that slashed 20 percent of the Board of Ed’s capital funds, meaning fewer schools will be built in the borough with the most overcrowded classrooms.

The city’s 1.1 million public school students can expect to feel the crunch from two different angles: a 7 percent, or $354 million reduction in city funding of schools, which will affect programs and school services, and the city’s capital budget, which controls monies for construction and repair of schools.

Queens Board of Education Representative Terri Thomson got a chance to see how budget reductions can hurt students while touring a Little Neck elementary school last week.

As PS 94 Principal JoAnn Barbeosch outlined some of the difficulties, including the elimination of transportable classrooms designed to relieve overcrowding of the school’s fifth-graders and of supplemental educational programs to support lagging students.

“I can’t imagine what there is left to cut,” she said. “Where am I going to get that extra fifth-grade classroom from?”

PS 94 is just one example of the borough’s overcrowded classrooms. In Queens school administrators have been using cafeterias and gymnasiums for classes, eliminated science labs and music rooms, and held classes in closets just to accommodate students.

Last year the Board of Education faced its own budget crisis when a $2.3 billion gap in the school construction budget was made public, forcing the board to delay several Queens construction projects.

Thomson helped negotiate a tense budget deal in December which helped preserve 14 of 19 Queens schools that were expected to be built before the budget gap became apparent.

But Bloomberg’s 20 percent reduction in capital funding delays nearly all the Queens schools scheduled to be built this year, except for three: PS/IS 499 on the campus of Queens College and two District 27 elementary schools.

Standing in the cafeteria of PS 94, a space which doubles as a science lab, Thomson last week looked to another source for funding.

“Our hope is the City Council,” said Thomson.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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