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PTA upset over PS 51 renaming

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Community members and parents from Richmond Hill expressed their disappointment Tuesday night that members of Community Board 9 did not consult them before suggesting a new name for a local school.

Simcha Weisman, president of the Richmond Hill Block Association, and Walter Wagner, president of the PTA at PS 51 in Richmond Hill, said they were never consulted about the new name for the school, which community board members want to rename The Jacob Riis School. Weisman said the block association, parents and politicians were responsible for a large portion of the renovations that helped reopen and renovate the school that was closed from 1983 to 1993.

“How do you change the name without first coming to the community?” Weisman asked Community Board 9 Chairman Paul Sapienza. “I think something is wrong with this picture.”

He suggested naming the school instead for those who helped rebuild the school.

Weisman said his organization galvanized support for the school site which when closed had a collapsed roof, an asbestos problem and a broken boiler. He said elected officials, such as state Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill), helped get the necessary funds to hire an independent engineer to work with the city School Construction Authority to build a new school.

It was these efforts that he said were overlooked when the community board decided to rename the elementary school, which is located at 87-45 117th St. The site reopened in 1995, Weisman said.

Wagner was also critical of the board for being unaware of the DOE’s procedures that have to be followed when a governmental body wants to rename a school. He handed Sapienza a packet provided to him by the Education Department that specifies the necessary steps the board must take to rename the school.

Sapienza said he did not know the board had acted in error in going ahead with the renaming, which was formalized in an agenda item to be voted on later by the board. He said he had reached out to local community organizations, such as the Richmond Hill Block Association, when he first was elected chairman three years ago but had had no contact with them since.

“Members of the public have a forum here in which they can be heard and inform members of the board,” Sapienza said.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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