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Clark, parents weigh funds, options for schools at forum

But despite the uncertainty of when the money will come, Queens officials and parents have decided it is time to decide how it could best be spent."We need to get ideas from parents on their priorities," Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) said at an education forum Saturday at the St. Albans Family Life Center, which lies in School District 29, where schools have ranked particularly low in student performance. "Our school system is seriously failing our kids."Gov. George Pataki was expected to announce his budget proposal this week. But few lawmakers and educators hold out hope that he will agree to use the state's $2 billion surplus to comply with a more recent court ruling in February that ordered the state to give city schools $5.6 billion a year more for operating expenses. The ruling, which follows the first court finding in 2003 that city schools had been habitually shortchanged under state funding formulas, applies to other cities in New York as well. Pataki has been seen as stalling on the issue since the group, Campaign For Fiscal Equity, filed the lawsuit more than 12 years ago."Either way, the money is imminent," Jessica Garcia, CFE's director of community and youth organizations, insisted to the some hundred parents at Saturday's meeting, adding that she expects a decision from the state in the next few weeks. Now, in an effort to inform concerned parents on the situation and hear their suggestions for how it should be spent, the CFE has embarked on a series of 10 meetings in communities citywide. The St. Albans forum was the fifth in that series. And there was plenty of input. "How are kids going to get a sound education without a sound building?" said John Tillman, president of District 29's education council. "Before class size is addressed we need to build up the facilities."Most suggestions centered on improving and expanding school facilities, adding programs to the curriculum, providing education material online and better preparing students for jobs at a younger age.Anna Palmer, who has three children in school, said her 9-year-old daughter at PS 134 was "getting depressed" because of a lack of art programs offered."It's hard enough getting kids out of bed in the morning," she said. "We need these activities."Leslie King, a parent coordinator at Springfield Gardens High School, suggested using some of the money to put assignments on the Web so students can print out homework from home.Others stressed the need to adapt the curriculum toward a global scale so that children will be more capable of competing for jobs being outsourced overseas.Shawn Hobbs, a father of three, wanted schools to place more focus on teaching entrepreneurial skills."We need to give some of that knowledge at an early age," he said.For Marilyn Cohen, a 40-year forensic science high school teacher in Cambria Heights, the solution was more basic."Give a calculator to a kid in the third grade so when he comes to me, he'll know that 12 divided by three equals four," she said.

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