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Pols denounce DOE plans

The Department of Education angers parents and elected officials over a plan to bus Woodside children to a school in Astoria. Photo by Bill Parry
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U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) joined several elected officials and parents of students at PS 11 in Woodside to denounce the city Department of Education’s final recommendation to send the school’s kindergartners to PS 171 in Astoria.

The plan calls for the incoming kindergarten class to be bused 3 miles away to the other side of CEC District 30, during the construction of a $70 million annex, beginning in September.

“I urge the DOE to go back to the drawing board,” Crowley said.

The city School Construction Authority will begin demolition of a 200-seat mini-building this summer and start the two-year process of building an 850-seat replacement. The DOE decided to send the incoming kindergarten class to PS 171 for the first year of construction and then move the class into the new PS 339 the following year.

Many of the parents complained that the children would have to go to three different schools in three years at the start of their education.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Jackson Heights), who represents the parents, said, “We’re grateful for the expansion, but this is not the solution in the short-term. Taking 4- and 5-year-olds and shipping them 3 miles away is such a hardship and it doesn’t make sense.”

State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood) said, “There has to be a better solution. We have to get some answers soon because people are getting anxious.”

The group of political leaders was informed of the DOE’s decision by government affairs people in a phone call Monday, according to Nolan. Crowley and Nolan joined state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth) in drafting a letter in January to city Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña urging the DOE to reconsider the plan.

The letter was ignored, according to Crowley who said, “I am truly diappointed.”

“We’re taking lemonade and turning it into lemons,” Gianaris said. “All of us here today are ready to work together to find a solution without making parents’ lives harder, but the DOE does not seem interested in listening.”

Van Bramer, who was not asked to sign the letter, devised a plan of his own. He asked the DOE to consider s putting the tranfered PS 11 kindergartners into PS 313 now currently under construction in in Sunnyside once it opens this fall, a scenario that would keep the children closer to home, just a quarter of a mile away.

The problem is that PS 313 is being built in CEC District 24.

“There is resistance to 313. The DOE is looking at other uses and coming up with changes in District 24,” Van Bramer said. “We’re hoping they’ll reconsider.”

PS 171 is a half-hour bus ride away from PS 11 and is more than seven blocks from the nearest subway station, according to Crowley’s office. It creates a large inconvenience for parents who need to travel to the school in case of an emergency.

“The Panel for Educational Policy has final say when they meet in March and we hope they reverse the DOE’s decision. We’re not giving up,” Crowley said. “We’re no strangers to finding ways to get attention and we will make our points clear and known.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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