Today’s news:

5,000 New Classroom Seats In Doubt

It’s official.The city Department of Education (DOE) has announced which school construction projects will be dropped if the state doesn’t allocate $6.5 billion by April 1.Six of these projects were planned for Brooklyn schools and expected to create more than 5,000 new classroom seats – making a significant dent in combating overcrowding in the borough.Among those “delayed indefinitely,” as Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote in his weekly column posted on is the plan to build a kindergarten to eighth grade school at the site of the former Magen David Yeshiva, located at Avenue P and Stillwell Avenue.The city has already purchased the land where Magen David once sat and the buildings on the site are now being demolished.The entire project was projected at $68 million.For more than 30 years, Sunset Park residents have called for a high school to be built in their neighborhood.Now, that project may also get the ax.Costing $93 million, the school would provide relief to Sunset Park teenagers who must travel long distances via trains and buses to attend high schools in other communities.In addition to giving Sunset Park a school of its own, the facility was intended to relieve overcrowding at nearby high schools, especially Fort Hamilton, James Madison and Midwood.Each of these three schools is at least 60 percent overcapacity, according to DOE data.The addition for Midwood High School, 2839 Bedford Avenue, is also on the chopping block.Costing $30 million, the addition was designed to be a science annex offering 340 new seats in the school.With three floors, the building would contain a library and several science labs.It was set to be built on one-third of the schoolyard, which is shared by P.S. 152 and P.S. 315, located across the street from Midwood.Joining the famed high school on the list of delayed projects are plans to create three new schools – two in the Family Court building at 283 Adams Street and one at East 107th Street and Avenue J.Dubbed P.S./I.S. 366, the East 107th Street school was designed to hold elementary and middle school grades.The final project in Brooklyn hanging in limbo is the DOE’s planned acquisition of the building that was home to the recently-closed Our Lady of Refuge School, 1087 Ocean Avenue.As of late, the DOE has leased the buildings of several Catholic schools that the Diocese of Brooklyn closed last year with the goal of reopening them as public schools.The DOE had not named a specific school to move into the Our Lady of Refuge space, said a department source.The funding for all of these projects is resting on the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) decision, which the state has refused to abide by.Governor George Pataki has appealed a judge’s ruling that city schools have historically been underfunded and the situation must be remedied with 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.When compiling its $13.1 billion capital plan, the DOE factored in the CFE money in hopes that the state would come through.However, this is the second year in a row that Albany did not.To compensate for the lack of sufficient state funding in 2005 – the first year of the DOE’s five-year capital plan – Bloomberg, who at the time was running for reelection, increased the city’s contribution to the plan by $1.3 billion. This allowed work to begin on school construction projects specified for 2005.The money was an advance of the funding the city was prepared to commit during the remaining four years of the capital plan. As a result, the city will provide less over the next four years.Bloomberg will not increase the city’s contribution this year.“The city already puts in $3.5 billion more annually than when I came into office,” Bloomberg asserted during a press conference about the CFE lawsuit. “The city doesn’t have any more money and it’s not going to put any more money in. Albany should understand that…It’s their turn.”Pataki’s education spending increases have fallen far short of the CFE mandate.In his latest – and last – state budget, Pataki increased school funding throughout the state by $634 million.The previous year, in his 2005-2006 budget, Pataki hiked school funding statewide by $525 million.With the goal of putting pressure on Pataki as he eyes a presidential run, city officials joined Bloomberg at City Hall to encourage parents to contact their state legislators – members of the Assembly and Senate, as well as Pataki – and demand that the CFE money be released.Phone numbers for state legislators’ district offices will be made available via the city’s hotline, 311, Bloomberg said.“It’s time for the state to end its delinquency,” Bloomberg said. “New York City public schools are being shortchanged year after year and the courts have determined that the state has a constitutional obligation to provide this critical funding. It’s time that the state stepped up and met its responsibility to ensure that every child – in every borough – is accorded the sound basic education that is their right. Unless the state meets its obligation, 15,000 classroom seats, new schools, libraries, labs and gyms will be postponed.”“This is unacceptable,” agreed Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. “The state owes our children their fair share.”

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