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What to look for in the city’s new school construction plan

Sandwiched between exciting election news and distressing budget news, the mayor and chancellor today will release their proposal for the city schools’ next five-year capital plan, covering construction and renovation projects for the years 2010 to 2014.

DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg tells me the plan will go online shortly after the mayor’s noon budget announcement. Here are some things to look for in the proposal:

  • How ambitious is the plan? Chancellor Klein recently touted the current capital plan as “the most robust” in the city’s history. But the capital plan being unveiled today was formulated during a period of intense anxiety about the economy. To what extent has the city scaled back its aspirations?
  • Where will new school seats go? Parents in Manhattan’s District 2 and District 3 have been outspoken in the last year about overcrowding in their neighborhoods. But other areas of the city, such as Highbridge in the Bronx, where residents rallied last week for a new middle school, are also dealing with serious overcrowding. Will the new capital plan provide relief for them?
  • How serious is the the city’s commitment to addressing neighborhoods with crowded schools that sit inside districts that overall are under capacity? City officials have said that the new capital plan will be the first to tackle “pocket overcrowding.” What will that change look like?
  • Did city officials take new residential construction into account when figuring out how many classroom seats are needed? That was the suggestion of several elected officials and the Campaign for a Better Capital Plan in a report released last month with recommendations for how the city should plan for school construction. In the past, the city has based its projections primarily on past enrollment.
  • Did city officials write class-size reductions into the plan? To have small classes, as some advocates urge is necessary and as is required by law in grades K-3, the city would have to add dramatically more seats than it has in the past.

The capital plan we will see today isn’t set in stone. In the coming months, School Construction Authority officials will meet with the Community Education Councils in each of the city’s 32 school districts to discuss the plan. The CECs, as well as the Panel for Educational Policy and the City Council, must vote to adopt the plan before it can go into effect.