Council’s recommendations outline strategies to improve school planning and siting, and reduce overcrowding.
City Hall, NY ‒ New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Finance Committee Chair Daniel Dromm, Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger, Land Use Committee Chair Rafael Salamanca, Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee Chair Francisco Moya, and Capital Budget Subcommittee Chair Vanessa Gibson released the Council’s 2018 report, Planning to Learn: The School Building Challenge. The report is a detailed analysis of the space challenges faced by New York City’s public school system and a comprehensive set of recommendations to address the ongoing and severe overcrowding that exists in New York City’s public schools. The issues highlighted in this report, as well as potential legislation stemming from these findings, will be the addressed in a City Council hearing in April with the Education, Land Use and Finance Committees. Read the report here.
Speaker of the City Council, Corey Johnson
“The greatest city in the world deserves educational facilities to match. While the City has made significant new investments in our children’s education, there is more we can do. This report highlights existing overcrowding and the challenges related to planning for new schools, calls for greater accountability in the school planning process, and provides recommendations that can help expedite new school construction in order to alleviate overcrowding. We hope this report, which was started under the leadership of former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and former Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, spurs new opportunities for collaboration between different stakeholders that support the Council’s efforts in providing the best educational opportunities to the youngest New Yorkers.”
Finance Committee Chair, Daniel Dromm
“To create additional school seats, two major things must be done: we must improve the demographic information we collect, and work with real estate interests to find seats in the most overcrowded school districts. While the city has taken measures to create additional school seats over the past four years, more work remains to be done. This action plan proposes a multifaceted solution that will facilitate school construction and include other creative methods of driving down overcrowding. I am pleased to work alongside NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Land Use Committee Chairperson Rafael Salamanca and Education Committee Chairperson Mark Treyger to ensure that NYC public school students have access to the facilities they need to learn.”
Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger
“As a former educator, I know all too well how difficult it is to both learn and teach in an overcrowded classroom. That’s why I’m proud to be part of a Council that is actively engaged in solving issues like school overcrowding. This working group and the resulting report – which include the voices and perspectives of interdisciplinary City Council divisions, experts, and stakeholders – provide valuable recommendations on how the city can better coordinate efforts to create a more transparent, effective, and equitable school siting plan.”
Land Use Committee Chair, Rafael Salamanca
“As the City grows, we need to utilize the land use tools available to us to build new schools and ensure we are planning for the longevity of our City. We know there are limited opportunities to build new schools in the areas where overcrowding is the worst. We on the Land Use Committee at City Council will look for every opportunity to site new schools in overcrowded districts. I look forward to working with NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson and my colleagues at City Council to implement the recommendations included in this report.”
Capital Budget Subcommittee Chair, Vanessa L. Gibson
“Overcrowding is a disservice to our students and our teachers. I urge SCA to adopt the recommendations laid out in the Council’s Planning to Learn report. Addressing these issues will not only more quickly create schools for the students of today, but will also create a framework that supports future school creation for the students of tomorrow. Good schools are built upon a foundation of good planning and I commend the Council’s School Planning and Siting Working Group for dedicating their time to helping our children succeed.”
The Council heard proposals and concerns from a wide variety of stakeholders including Community Education Council members, parents, education advocates, real estate developers, architects, elected officials, and the School Construction Authority.
The Council’s recommendations are:
1. Make it easier and faster to build schools
There are many districts in New York City where the funding is in the DOE Capital Plan but no school seats are sited, which demonstrates a failure to build seats in neighborhoods even when we have the resources. We need to do better.
· Pilot an RFP process for finding sites for new school construction.
To get assistance in finding new opportunities for school construction, SCA could pilot a new Request for Proposals (RFP) process that allows developers to present the agency with opportunities to build new schools with a specific funding constraint dictated in the RFP
· Advocate for SCA to receive Design-Build authorization from New York State.
Design-build has proven to expedite construction timelines and result in cost savings. The State should authorize SCA to use the design-build process for school construction projects.
· Expand use of eminent domain, particularly in high-need districts.
In Community School Districts with the most overcrowded schools that also have limited vacant sites that are suitable for new school construction, SCA should more often use aggressive measures like eminent domain to build schools.
· Convene a school design working group to consider school design flexibility.
SCA and DOE should convene a School Design Working Group to consider additional flexibility for design requirements for building schools on a small or irregular lot or in a mixed-use or affordable development. This working group could work under the direction of SCA’s school design staff, and would consist of experts in architecture, construction, and education.
· Establish zoning incentives to encourage school construction in high-need districts.
Special zoning districts could be established to encourage school construction in areas of the City with the highest need. Any change to the Zoning Resolution would require public review and a vote by the City Council. These zoning incentives would be meant to encourage developers to incorporate public schools into their development plans. The provisions of each zoning district should be tailored to the specific challenges in that school district.
· Continue to use the Education Construction Fund (ECF) model where appropriate.
The ECF model has been used successfully in a variety of projects, and it is an excellent way to leverage the private market to raise funding for new schools and achieve multiple policy goals, including building new affordable housing.
· Lease school buildings in large-scale affordable housing projects.
SCA is a “credit tenant” (a tenant with the financial security worthy of being rated as an investment grade by any of the major credit agencies), which means a firm early commitment from SCA to lease space is very useful in helping a developer to secure financing.
· Improve the site identification process.
In order to bolster the SCA’s efforts, the administration should form a mayoral-level team to review city real estate transactions and deals to identify opportunities for SCA. The Economic Development Corporation, HPD, DCAS, and DCP should be key participants. Additionally, given competing demands on City-owned or leased space, DCAS should alert DOE and SCA if a City-owned or leased property of adequate size for a school becomes available, so that DOE and SCA can consider that site for creating additional capacity.
· Support or build consensus for proposed school facilities.
When SCA is proposing a new school where need is significant, public officials should make every effort to support the construction of new schools. While local input can improve the final design and ensure the school will be integrated into the surrounding neighborhood, public officials should support the siting and creation of new schools where SCA and DOE have demonstrated a need for new school seats.
2. Accurately describe the problem
There are legitimate concerns about the integrity of the data used by SCA to develop the identified need for each capital plan. Listed below are several recommendations for each of the data sources used for the capital planning process.
· Include confidence intervals in enrollment projections.
SCA’s demographers should incorporate confidence intervals into their projections to allow the public to see what range of student populations SCA is considering when deciding where new school construction will be funded.
· Implement Blue Book Working Group (BBWG) recommendations that have not yet been implemented, particularly regarding class size.
The BBWG made a series of recommendations that have been partly implemented, but some of the most important recommendations were not adopted. SCA and DOE should update their target capacity class sizes to meet approved class size goals for the City under the State’s Contract for Excellence.
· Develop a housing projection model.
DOB permits do not accurately reflect the number of housing units that will be built in 10 years. SCA, in conjunction with other relevant city agencies, should develop a housing projection model that creates more realistic estimates for housing construction beyond the immediate future.
· Create neighborhood-based Projected Public School Ratios (PPSRs) using up-to-date Census data.
SCA should use the most current information available to develop more neighborhood-based PPSRs. The updated PPSRs should consider the number of bedrooms in housing units and other relevant factors that play a role in determining the likelihood of a household to generate children that will attend public school.
· Extend the school capacity planning horizon.
The DOE Capital Plan should project seat need for a rolling, 10-year period and clearly indicate how new capacity projects completed during any plan period change the identified seat need. This would allow DOE to plan to actually meet that need in the long-term, rather than continually projecting an unachievable seat need in fixed, five-year increments.
3. Give the public and decision makers the information they need
Below are recommendations for the information that should be released in order to enhance transparency and create additional public trust in the school planning process. Making this information public would allow for an informed dialogue between community members, education policy experts, the Council, and the administration on the best way to identify where new school seat construction is needed.
· Provide all data related to the identified seat need in machine-readable format at the level of planning (i.e. subdistrict level).
The subdistrict boundaries are the most important geographies for decisions by the City related to school planning. For transparency in the school planning process, the data used in the school planning process should be aggregated at the subdistrict level to ensure the public has full confidence in the way the City allocates resources related to school planning and construction.
· Provide substantive information on the adjustments SCA makes to the raw seat need that results in the identified seat need.
DOE/SCA use strategies other than constructing new schools to accommodate projected student enrollment. These adjustments are likely sensible measures to take that are much more cost-efficient than building new schools. For the public to have confidence in the identified need in the Capital Plan, DOE/SCA should list what strategies are being utilized to address overcrowding before requesting funding for new school construction.
· Clarify how race is incorporated into enrollment projections.
The demographers hired by SCA to project future student enrollment conduct their analysis using undisclosed algorithms to project student enrollment by race. In some cases, these enrollment projections vary dramatically by race. Projecting declining enrollments for Hispanic and Black students may deny neighborhoods that are predominately Hispanic and Black adequate school facilities in the future.
· Include the planning process for pre-K seats in the Capital Plan.
DOE/SCA have no published plan for how accommodated this new program in current facilities or new planned construction. As the pre-K program continues to expand in DOE facilities, the DOE/SCA should publish their method for streamlining the pre-K program into the Capital Plan.
· Improve communication with the public about potential new school sites.
When SCA receives a recommendation for a potential school site from the public, SCA should provide a meaningful response that includes detailed criteria for site selection. This would encourage the public to continue to submit potential school sites.
4. Increase use of other approaches to reduce overcrowding and foster diversity
While there are many cases where capital investment in new school construction is the only remedy, DOE interventions allow for less expensive and more flexible potential solutions to capacity needs. As the City begins to earnestly address issues of segregation in NYC public schools, the recommendations in this section can be used to address issues related to overcrowding and segregation in tandem.
· The School Diversity Advisory Group should consider school capacity and utilization as part of its larger diversity plan
As part of its “Equity and Excellence for All: Diversity in New York City Public Schools” plan released in June 2017, DOE has created a School Diversity Advisory Group tasked with reviewing policies and practices and making recommendations to the Mayor and Chancellor for changes to increase diversity in DOE schools. As part of its work, the School Diversity Advisory Group should consider school capacity and utilization as part of its larger diversity plan.
· Create specific school plans to alleviate overcrowding in high-need districts.
For consistently and extremely overcrowded schools in the highest need districts (as defined in the case study section of this report), DOE should publicly release a strategic plan to alleviate the overcrowding. This may include planned capacity construction in the area, but should also incorporate any non-construction strategies, as discussed in this report, as well as policies such as capping enrollment.
· Adjust CSD boundaries and school zone lines to reduce overcrowding.
The CSDs with localized overcrowding are best suited for a comprehensive school rezoning effort by DOE. Although this process is often very political, solving localized overcrowding by means other than new school construction can allow SCA to build more schools in areas where no other options are available.
· Expand use of special programs to attract students to underutilized facilities and ensure equity of access.
Even without undertaking a formal school rezoning, DOE can promote better utilization of existing DOE facility capacity through improving accessibility and offering attractive academic programming. By addressing the shortage of barrier-free programs and expanding programs such as dual language, career and technical education (CTE), progressive education models, and gifted and talented (G&T) programs, DOE can attract students to underutilized schools.
5. Explore new funding strategies
A full implementation of Recommendations 2 and 3—increasing transparency in the planning process and improving the methodology of this process—would instill confidence in the accuracy of this needs assessment. After implementation of these recommendations, the administration and the Council can work together to determine the amount of funding needed to create additional capacity and a realistic but ambitious timeline in which to fully fund required school construction. In the interim, the recommendations below can help address current funding shortfalls for SCA’s Capital Plan.
· Explore opportunities to raise funding through impact fees from new development.
As NYC’s real estate industry regains strength, the City should explore the feasibility of using impact fees for new developments in order for those developments to contribute their share of the costs that are a result of new students generated from their respective residential units.
· Revise CEQR to lower thresholds for impacts to public schools and allow mitigation via payment into a school construction fund.
The Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination should work with DOE, SCA, and the City Council to revise the CEQR guidelines in order to reduce these thresholds for significant adverse impacts to public school facilities. Additionally, impacts from development should be able to be mitigated by paying into a fund for new school construction, which would help SCA build more schools.
Shino Tanikawa, Co-Chair of the Blue Book Working Group and Vice President of Community Education Council (CEC) 2, Manhattan
“The recommendations made by the City Council’s School Planning and Siting Working Group will greatly improve the way we assess needs and build schools. If implemented, I believe these recommendations will shift the process from reactive planning to proactive planning, which is critical considering how brief students’ time in school buildings is. School construction that is five or more years behind the population growth adversely affects almost an entirety of students’ elementary school experience and multiple cohorts of middle and high school students. I sincerely hope the recommendations will be adopted.”
Naila Rosario, Former President of CEC 15, Brooklyn
“Overcrowding has plagued Sunset Park schools for decades. Both my children have been in overly large classes since Kindergarten. Due to poor school planning and overcrowding in my district, I’ve had to travel over an hour and half so my son could attend a half-day pre-k program. I’m very happy to see that the City Council is taking this issue seriously and is taking steps to alleviate school overcrowding in NYC.”
Marvin Shelton, President of CEC 10, Bronx
“We’re way behind meeting our current capacity needs, and additional housing units are constantly being constructed, so we’re always on the lookout for potential sites. One of the frustrations in District 10 is that when sites are suggested, we get an acknowledgment of the submission, but no follow-up information. We have also seen available sites go to other City agencies, rather than be used for new schools. We’re pleased that the City Council is specifically addressing these concerns and look forward to working with them and the SCA to improve school siting going forward.”
Laurie Windsor, Former President of CEC 20, Brooklyn
“As District 20 has been so severely overcrowded the last decade, it was good to have this working group on school planning and siting listen to our concerns and past experiences. The findings and recommendations will aid in planning for the future and surely help relieve some of the issues associated with such overcrowding.”
Morris Altman, Former President of CEC 25, Queens
“Overcrowding has been a long term problem in Community School District 25. It became so bad in PS 25Q that there were two classes sharing the library with one teacher at each end of the room talking to their students at the same time. Imagine being in one of these classes and trying to concentrate. The same school also had classes in store rooms with no windows and barely any space to walk. While this school has been addressed with an additional wing, the rapid construction pace in this desirable part of Queens is overcrowding most schools in the district. I’m thrilled to see that the City Council is taking this issue up and for the opportunity to provide input.”
Leonie Haimson, Executive Director, Class Size Matters
“I’d like to thank Speaker Corey Johnson and Education Chair Mark Treyger for their leadership, and the hard work of the Land Use, Legislative, and Finance staff in tackling the critical need to improve the city’s process of planning and siting schools. More than 575,000 NYC students currently attend overcrowded schools, according to DOE’s own data, and this crisis will worsen without significant reforms. If these proposals are implemented this will help alleviate the chronic overcrowding that deprives our students of their right to an excellent and equitable education.”
Javier H. Valdés, Co-Executive Director, Make the Road New York
“All children in New York City should be able to attend a school with the space and facilities they need to thrive. But school overcrowding continues to plague our City schools. We strongly support the Council Working Group’s efforts to address this pressing issue by fully recognizing the scale of the problem and identifying mechanisms to speed up the process of school construction, securing additional funding, and more.”
Maggie Moroff, Special Education Policy Coordinator, Advocates for Children of New York
“Advocates for Children of New York is pleased that the City Council has taken the time and energy to look closely at improving school planning and siting issues. Space planning requires a close look at a number of key factors, including how to promote diversity, create additional pre-K seats for all, and address the City’s shortage of schools that are physically accessible to all students, families, and teachers. We are optimistic that this report will provide useful direction for these important conversations.”