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30 Years Waiting For New H.S. Frustrates Many

Enough is enough! That was the sentiment expressed at a town hall to discuss the planned creation of a high school in Sunset Park, which is now in limbo. Parents, students, community activists, and local elected officials gathered at I.S. 136, 4004 Fourth Avenue, to demand that a more than 30-year-old plan to build a high school in their neighborhood finally come to fruition. The city Department of Education (DOE) expected the School Construction Authority (SCA) to begin work on the project this fall but now the agency may be unable to do so. That’s because the DOE believed the $93 million necessary for the project would come from the state in compliance with the decision in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit. A judge ruled that city schools must receive an extra $5.6 billion in operating funds over the next four years and $9.2 billion over the next five years for capital projects. Unfortunately for city schoolchildren, Governor George Pataki is adamantly fighting the ruling and, currently, has no plans to allocate the additional money. As a result, dozens of construction projects intended for schools throughout the city may be abandoned on April 1. Hoping to avoid this fate, frustrated teenagers packed the town hall at I.S. 136 to tell politicians why it is so important that a high school be built in Sunset Park. (The school was slated to occupy the lot between Third and Fourth avenues from 34th to 35th streets.) As the neighborhood currently lacks a high school, students must travel long distances on buses and trains to schools in other communities. To arrive on time for first period at Sheepshead Bay High School, 15-year-old Jessica Garcia leaves her home at 5 a.m. Even though her first class starts at 8 a.m., she tries to get to school at 7:30 a.m. so she has time to go through metal detectors. It takes her two trains, one bus and a 10-minute walk to reach her school. “It’s a very horrible experience,” she said. “I feel like transferring now because I can’t take it anymore.” A freshman at the High School of Telecommunications on Fourth Avenue and Senator Street in Bay Ridge, Vanessa Torres spends 20 minutes on a train to get to school. If a high school were located near her home, “it would be much easier,” she said. Making the situation more difficult, Torres’ parents are uneasy about her traveling alone on the subway. “They get nervous because sometimes I take it at night,” she said. Now in the eighth grade at M.S. 821, Omayra Nuñez is “concerned” about traveling via public transportation to a high school outside of Sunset Park in September. “I’ve never been on a train by myself,” she said. Although all of these teens would finish the twelfth grade before a high school could be built in Sunset Park, they still stressed the importance of providing the younger generation with a school close to home. “I want a good future for my sisters,” Garcia said. “I don’t want them to go through the same thing as me.” Tyleek Mack, a sixth-grader at M.S. 821, doesn’t want to experience the same lengthy journey Garcia endures to go to school either. “We need [a high school in Sunset Park] so when I go to high school, I can go there,” he said. Hoping to provide Sunset Park youths with a less trying high school experience, Randolph Peers, chair of Community Board 7, which organized the town hall, said the state must release the CFE funding, thereby making a high school in the neighborhood a reality. “It’s unfortunate that our community and the long overdue high school it has been promised, is caught up in a funding dispute between the state and city. Educating our children should be one priority that rises above such politics,” he noted. “It’s not about politics. It’s not about funding. It’s about a promise. A promise that was made to us more than 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s about the future of our children and we just want to get it done.” The creation of a high school in Sunset Park would also benefit schools in surrounding communities. Maintaining 1,600 seats, the new school would alleviate overcrowding at nearby high schools, including Fort Hamilton, James Madison and Midwood. Each of these three schools is at least 60 percent overcapacity, according to DOE data. “It doesn’t only affect Sunset Park. It affects all of southwest Brooklyn,” said City Councilmember Vincent Gentile. Since the SCA will not officially drop school construction projects until April 1, parents should lobby for the state to release the CFE funding, said Councilmember Sara Gonzalez. “We need to write, we need to call, we need to do whatever we have to to ensure that this high school does not go away,” she said. The CFE money “is long overdue,” agreed Councilmember Bill de Blasio. “We must have justice for our community. We can’t be one of the only neighborhoods in the city without a high school any longer. It’s not acceptable.”

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