Editorial: Nowhere to sit

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Why isn't anyone screaming?

As children returned to their classes last week, officials for the New York City public school system announced that schools in Queens are short more than 29,000 seats.

To be exact, Terri Thompson, the Queens representative on the Board of Education, said that when comparing capacity to enrollment, "We are short 29,705 [seats]"

Why isn't anyone screaming? Why aren't the teachers unions up in arms? How is it possible that this shortage can be seen as anything less than the emergency that it is? The lack of seats and classroom space means that schools will have to make do. Some children will be taught in bathrooms next to urinals covered with cardboard, in hallways or even in closets. Some kids will be required to each lunch at 10 or 10:30 in the morning. Teachers will be asked to meet tough new testing standards in classroom space that is at best embarrassing.

To be fair, the School Construction Authority has made an effort to create additional classroom space. But the #SCA is hunting elephants with a fly swatter. Last year the borough added 4,200 seats by building three new schools and bringing in additional trailer classrooms. Sadly, the SCA has no plans to keep up with the population boom that continues throughout Queens. The SCA is barely treading water, but it is the students who are drowning.

If the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus demands a crisis response - and it does - why doesn't the shortage of seats cry out for crisis intervention? What is most troubling is that we saw this crisis coming 10 years ago and little or nothing was done. To this day, there is no plan, as far as we know, at the Board of Education or the SCA, to bring this crisis to an end. No one is saying, "We have looked at population projections and by the year [whatever] we will have enough desks for every public school student in Queens."

Given the dimensions of this shortage, no one should question the opening of charter schools. If nothing else, these schools will eventually alleviate some of the pressure on the Queens public school system while giving parents a chance to opt out of sending their children to a classroom that ought to be a bathroom.

Until this crisis is resolved, or at least until there is a sound plan to eliminate the shortfall within a specified period of time, the Board of Education and the SCA deserve failing grades.

Westward Ho!

The miracle that is downtown Flushing is about to head west. The city is planning a massive redevelopment of the underutilized property to the west of Flushing, south of Northern Boulevard, between College Point Boulevard and the river.

The plans make sense for two reasons: The Flushing business district is bursting at the seams. The plan includes a tree-lined promenade on the banks of the Flushing River that will help to balance out the growth in manufacturing and other commercial activity.

As part of the revitalization that is already underway, the city planners should also address the transportation problems that have accompanied the growth of Flushing. Every day buses bring hundreds of thousands of commuters to and from the No. 7 Train. Thousands of other commuters wait to be picked up by car. It's a mess.

If Flushing is a modern transportation hub below ground, it must also be modernized above ground. If the new plans, while encouraging growth, can eliminate the transportation chaos, Flushing will be on its way to a tremendous future.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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