Leonie Haimson at Oct. 23, 2006, Forum
Remarks by Leonie Haimson, of Class Size Matters, at SAVE PS 109 Will of the People Forum, Mon. Oct. 23, 2006

Now the Department of Education says that E. Harlem doesn't need this school, and the existing schools all have plenty of room. How many of you think that there's plenty of room in your school? (no hands were raised.)

Well, all this is according to the official estimates of capacity in the Blue Book put out by the School Construction Authority. The formulas for calculating the capacity figures are so complicated that nearly no one understands them, so they're very easy for the DOE to manipulate or get wrong.

Peter Heaney, regional superintendent for Region 9, where PS 109 is located, said publicly that the capacity figures in the Blue Book are so inaccurate to be unusable. Here are notes from a Town Hall meeting a couple of years ago:

"Heaney would like the Chancellor to reevaluate this formula as it is often used as an excuse to put more kids into an overcrowded school because the formula showed that the school wasn't at "capacity". Heaney said that the formula should be totally overhauled or gotten rid of altogether." This never happened.

Just last week, Jamie Smarr of DOE's Educational Construction Fund has admitted to me that the Blue Book numbers can be very "misleading."

But this is what we know for sure.

. Many times rooms that are being used for art or science are counted as classroom space.

. Also, the figures in the Blue Book are at least two years out of date.

These figures do not take account of the new charter schools, many of which have been put into existing school buildings in the district.

Take PS 102 on E.113 St. - this school is listed as being only 2/3 full, with a capacity of 68% -- yet there's no mention of the fact that the school now shares its building with a charter school (LEADERSHIP VILLAGE ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL M335);

This charter school was started last year, with two classes of fifth graders, and plans to add another grade and two classes each year, all the way to 12th grade. Though the charter school says its wants to eventually move out of PS 102, whether this will happen is yet to be determined.

Already, after the charter school was first put into the building, class sizes rose in at least 4 grades in PS 102.

Same goes with PS 50 shares now space with another charter school (NY CENTER FOR AUTISM CHARTER SCHOOL M337) and yet is listed at only 58% capacity - no mention of existing charter school in building.

after the charter school first put into building, class sizes in PS 50 rose in two grade levels - to 27.5 in 4th grade, and 28 in 6th grade - much too large for any school, no less a Title 1 school.

In the Blue Book, the Young Women's Leadership school on E.106 St. is listed at only 70% capacity - yet we know it is at least at 100% -- last year, the school got a special waiver so that it wouldn't have to accept 6th graders because there is no more room in the building.

Another problem with the official capacity figures is that they assume maximum class sizes - which are much too large.

Class sizes in elementary schools are assumed to be 25 in K-3, and 29 students per class in 4th and 5th grades in Title I schools; 31 in non-Title one schools. In the rest of the state, outside NYC, 4th and 5th grades average only 21-22 students.

. In middle schools, the capacity formulas assume classes of 28, and in high schools, classes of 34. Again much too large.

We have declining achievement levels in our middle schools and huge dropout rates in our high schools; both are a direct effect of overcrowding class sizes that are by far the largest in the state and some of the largest in the nation.

Compare the average class sizes in middle schools and high schools in the rest of the state of only 20-22 students per class..

Now some of our schools in D4 probably have class sizes that are smaller than the DOE maximum, but the way in which capacity is calculated in the Blue Book, class sizes may be forced to rise to these levels.

Even according to the official figures in the Blue Book, which as we have seen underestimate the problem, 75% of our HS students attend overcrowded schools.

Manhattan center HS just east of here, on the river is listed at 107% capacity- with 2,129 students for a building built for 1,999. About 7,000 students applied for just over 350 spots in the freshman class that began in the fall of 2004. Clearly that school should be expanded.

Also in the same building is the River East Elementary school ( PS 37) and IS 825 - the Isaac Newton Middle School, the elementary school is at capacity, the middle school overcapacity.

Philip Randolph HS nearby on 135 St. - is also 112% overcapacity. This school, once Harlem's jewel has suffered because of severe overcrowding with more than 500 additional freshmen to the school in the fall of 2004. As a result, suspensions have tripled, and achievement has fallen as a result.

High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College on 138 Street ; this is from Insideschools: "Finding adequate space has been a problem. Some of the classes are held in red trailers on a grassy lot on the City College campus, while others are held in the basement of the former chemistry building called Baskerville Hall four blocks away."

Nearby, George Washington Campus - listed at 115% overcapacity; Brandeis Hs at 134%.

Most all of the large HS in nearby D2 also extremely overcrowded - and as you know, HS students can travel anywhere near public transportation, as PS 109 is.

Norman Thomas at 139% -- with over 3,000 students for a building meant for 2100. the overcrowding is so extreme it has led to fighting and disruption.

HS of graphic communication at 104%.

Manhattan comprehensive Night and Day at 122%.

HS for Environmental studies at 120% -- w/ 1800 students meant for 1500 students.

Murray Bergtraum HS at 140% capacity; Chelsea Voc HS at 122%.

Richard R. Green HS of teaching - on E.88 St. is at 112%.

Bayard Rustin Educational complex at 104%

Washington Irving HS 102%

Health Professions at 139%

What are the plans to address this? There are none.

When Klein was asked on the WNYC in July about the plans to give away PS109, he said that there were plenty of schools in E. harlem. Here is the exact quote: (there is a transcript and an audio file of this.)

Caller: Why would we give a schoolhouse, ever? Klein: There are plenty of facilities in East Harlem, we're building more.

To the contrary, the DOE is not planning to build a single new school anywhere in Harlem- and not a single new HS anywhere in Manhattan.

This is despite the fact that last year, we received over $6 billion in funding for school construction from the state .

Now we need to save PS 109 as a school; we also need your help .

Our coalition, NYers for smaller classes, is leading a campaign to make sure that with the all the additional funds we're supposed to receive from the state, the city builds enough schools and hires enough teachers to eliminate overcrowding and reduce class size in all grades, in every school in the city. Will you help us?

If so, please fill out your contact info on the sheets I'm handing out today.