Queens will get about 25,000 new spots for students over the next five years, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced Wednesday night at a Queens Parent Advisory Board meeting at Queens Borough Hall. Carranza said the new spots, which would be created under a proposed $17 billion five-year school capital plan, should ease overcrowding.
More than 200 parents and teachers attended the meeting chaired by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. State Sen. Leroy Comrie and Assemblyman David I. Weprin were also in the audience.
Carranza said the plan would help resolve some other key issues, accessibility for disabled students and under-funding.
“It’s the biggest five-year capital plan we’ve ever introduced,” said Carranza. “Within that five-year capital plan, there’s $8.8 billion that is dedicated to create more seats and about 25,000 seats are going to be new seats in Queens.”
If approved by the Panel for Educational Policy and the City Council, the plan would fulfill Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2016 promise to create 83,000 school seats across the city, according to the Department of Education.
During the meeting, Carranza also said that Amazon’s decision to locate half of its second headquarters in Long Island City will create more opportunities for students. Amazon has promised 25,000 jobs in the neighborhood and pledged to donate space for a new school that will create around 400 new seats in schools.
“One of the most successful strategies in high schools is connecting high school students to post-secondary job opportunities,” said Carranza. “If we can connect our high school students, while in high school, to those internships that can lead to jobs, that creates another economic engine right here in Queens.”
However, some residents voiced their concerns about Amazon’s arrival. Sabina Omerhodzic, a Long Island City parent and member of the Community Education Council for District 30, said every year, schools have been used as a bargaining chip by different developers to get tax breaks and free land but the schools they promise to build are never constructed.
Omerhodzic said the space that will be soon occupied by Amazon will take away public space and the chance to build new schools, community centers and job training centers in the community.
Teachers and parents also said they were concerned that the movement toward creating more small schools was hurting students. Pamela Trihcaldo, the assistant principal at M.S. 137 in Queens, said although students feel less anonymous and more connected to faculty members in smaller schools, small schools don’t have enough funding to offer a more comprehensive education system including after-school programs, sports, classes in the arts or Advanced Placement classes.
When asked about the issue of violence on school buses, Carranza said the parents should reach out to the teachers and principals first. If the problem isn’t solved, the parents could reach out to the superintendent of the school district or an executive superintendent, he said. Carranza said he had added nine executive superintendents to the Department of Education in July this year to help supervise district superintendents and implement new policies.