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Comrie defends city schools

Councilman Leroy Comrie speaks during a rally in Forest Hills, where elected officials and supporters asked that eight Queens high schools be kept open. Photo by Nykeema Williams
TimesLedger Newspapers

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) convened a meeting of his colleagues from the Queens delegation last Thursday in Forest Hills, where they called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to drop his plan to close eight borough high schools at the end of the academic year and open new schools in their places for 2012-13 school year.

Comrie said Bloomberg chose to close the struggling schools “not out of academic excellence, not out of academic progression, but out of spite” during negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers on an evaluation and appeals system.

Earlier last year, the city Department of Education received federal funding to reorganize 33 of the city’s lowest-performing schools, including nine in Queens: Grover Cleveland High School in Ridgewood, William Cullen Bryant HS in Astoria, Newtown HS in Elmhurst, Flushing HS, August Martin HS in Jamaica, Richmond Hill HS, John Adams HS in Ozone Park, Long Island City HS and Queens Vocational Technical HS in Long Island City, the only one of the nine not on the chopping block.

During his State of the City address, Bloomberg said he intended to move all 33 schools into a reorganization model that would allow the city to remove more than half of the teachers from each school.

The DOE Panel on Educational Policy will meet in Brooklyn April 26 and vote on whether to close eight of the Queens schools. The department said Queens Vocational Technical did not warrant closure due to its academic progress.

Still, the Queens council members characterized the plan to close the schools as one motivated by politics, not academics.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), a graduate of Bryant, said nothing had significantly changed at the schools since last year when they were placed in the less intrusive reorganization models.

“If it was good enough last May it’s good enough today,” he said. “The only thing that changed is the mayor decided to pull the plug.”

Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) joined Comrie in pointing out that the teachers at these schools will not be fired but instead be placed into the absentee teacher reserve pool, where they will collect a full salary and benefits while they substitute and apply for open positions.

“It’s not even a cost-saving factor,” he said.

A representative for the DOE said that at the beginning of the current school year, the reserve pool sat at about 2,500, and as teachers were hired it dropped down to about 900 in February. She said if 50 percent of the teachers from the closed schools were removed, it would put about 1,750 new teachers in the pool.

Borough President Helen Marshall and Councilwomen Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) expressed their concerns that removing teachers would be disruptive to those students who had formed relationships with them.

“The teacher is as close to the student as the parents are in many instances,” Marshall said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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