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Bloomberg created fewer school seats than Giuliani, report says

In the opening salvo of what’s sure to be a pitched battle over the next capital plan, activists today released a report (pdf) concluding that the city added fewer school seats during the first six years of the Bloomberg administration than it did during the six years immediately before. They estimate that the system needs 167,000 extra seats and dramatically accelerated school construction in order to ease crowding and reduce class sizes.

The capital plan is a budget outlining all public school construction plans for the next five years. The current plan covered five years and will end in 2009. The School Construction Authority is due to present a first draft of the next capital plan, covering the years 2010 to 2014, in just a few weeks.

In the report, released by the Campaign for a Better Capital Plan and written primarily by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, backers of the campaign call for “a transparent, thorough, and open system of planning” that reflects the system’s real space needs.

A partial list of the report’s recommendations, which are targeted at the Department of Education and SCA:

  • Look at information about births, residential construction, and preschool enrollment when projecting how many school seats will be needed. (Right now projections rely primarily on past trends.)
  • Allow schools to reclaim specialty spaces they have converted into classrooms to deal with overcrowding. (Across the city, art, science, and music rooms have all been converted into classrooms.)
  • Incorporate class-size reduction goals the city has set into estimates of each school’s capacity.
  • Visit schools to see how much space they really have and how it’s being used.
  • Streamline the city’s process for getting and approving new school sites, which is now long and expensive.

The 167,000 seats that the report says are needed are nearly three times as many as are being created during the term of the current capital plan.

Asked about the report this morning at the launch of the Research Alliance for New York City Schools, Chancellor Joel Klein defended the current capital plan, which he called “the most robust capital plan the city has ever seen.”

SCA President Sharon Greenberger told me this morning that she hadn’t seen the report before it was released today. But in general, she said, the SCA builds school seats safely and on time but simply can’t meet all of the city’s needs at one time. “Managing expectations” is a major component of her job, she said. “People want more than we can deliver.”

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