CB5 Still Has Hope for Local High School
by Daniel Bush
Feb 17, 2009 | 1025 views | 1 1 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Feb 13 09 - 02:30 PM

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Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley
In a surprise vote at its monthly board meeting, a divided Community Board 5 narrowly voted in favor of giving the new high school project one more month of lee time rather than outright rejecting the proposal.

CB5 voted 20-18 in favor of putting their decision on the school off until the group's next meeting in mid-March.

At the February 11th meeting, held at Christ the King High School in Middle Village, CB5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri opened discussion on the new school with the announcement that CB5's Executive Committee had reached a decision to recommend that the full board vote that night to reject the project.

The new high school proposed by the city's School Construction Authority (SCA) and Department of Education (DOE) is planned for a site on 74th Street and 57th Avenue in Maspeth. The school would serve roughly 1,100 students, down from original proposals for a combined middle school/high school for 1,600 students.

After a lengthy review process that has included several public hearings, Arcuri said the time has come for CB5 to reject a proposal many of its members have long opposed.

"The Executive Committee recommends voting against the high school for the following reasons," Arcuri said. "Another high school would overwhelm the community, and there is no priority zoning."

Arcuri also objected to SCA's latest designs for the school, presented last month, which did not include CB5's requests for a parking lot for faculty or a bus drop-off lane. CB5 leaders have argued that the drop-off lane, also known as a cutout, is critical to providing special education students with safe access to the school.

Though these additional issues were important, said Arcuri, the board's greatest concern remains DOE's failure to locally zone the new school to give enrollment priority to Maspeth teenagers. DOE has said on multiple occasions that local zoning is against department policy.

In a rare dramatic turn at a community board meeting, Arcuri's recommendation that CB5 vote immediately to reject the school proposal was interrupted by another board member, Dmytro Fedkowskyj, who made a motion to table - or suspend - the vote for one month.

Fedkowskyj, who sits on the city's Panel for Educational Policy, argued that the board should wait until after Queens Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley's meeting with DOE Chancellor Joel Klein.

Crowley, who attended the meeting, announced she would meet with Chancellor Klein later this month to discuss the Maspeth high school and lobby for local zoning.

Fedkowskyj presented new enrollment data on the 24th District - information many board members like Arcuri had been asking the DOE to provide for months - that he said could give CB5 and Crowley a stronger case for extending priority zoning status to the new high school.

According to the statistics, which came from the Office of Student Enrollment, Planning and Operations, presented by Fedkowskyj at the meeting, only 35 percent of the 3,683 enrolled students in District 24 attend local high schools in the district.

The data shows that a vast majority of the students who attend the district's two notoriously overcrowded high schools, Newtown and Grover Cleveland, do not live in the district.

Only 27 percent of students at Grover Cleveland, which is operating at 119 percent capacity, and Newtown, operating at an overflow capacity of 121 percent, reside in the district.

Opponents to the new high school, like Fedkowskyj, say if the Maspeth school isn't locally zoned it too would quickly become overcrowded by students outside of the district. Fedkowskyj said the statistical evidence could convince the DOE to make an exception in its no-local-zoning policy for Maspeth.

Fedkowskyj's motion to table CB5's vote until Klein speaks with Crowley and reviews the data set off a tense debate at the meeting between those allied with him who agreed the wait might be worth it, and the camp led by Arcuri who argued strenuously that CB5 should reject the school proposal then and there.

After several board members spoke, the motion to table was to put to a voice vote and passed by the slim margin of 20-18. CB5 will now vote to accept or reject the school proposal at its next general meeting in mid-March.

Speaking afterwards, Crowley told the Glendale Register she looked forward to her meeting with Klein.

"I'm expecting to go in there and let him know exactly how our community has been underserved as concerns high schools," Crowley said. Crowley said once students get through the district's excellent elementary schools and middle schools, their options dwindle quickly.

"When it comes to high school, it's a lot harder to send kids to schools locally," Crowley said. "There's no way I'm going to stand for a school being built, no way, unless it has priority zoning."

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February 22, 2009
I don't think Mr. Arcuri made any sense. Next time he should write out his thoughts and have someone else read them back to him.