January 28, 2009
Advocates who have been calling for the city to bulk up its school construction plan say the federal stimulus package could help the city do just that.
A string of City Council members, public officials, and parents urged the city to use the new federal funds to build more schools at a press conference at City Hall today. The Senate is likely to approve a stimulus package today that includes $14 billion of dollars in funding for school modernization and renovation projects, as well as tax provisions to help school districts foot the bill for new schools.
Where the federal funds will break down is not yet clear. But many are worried that whatever money the city does receive, it won’t be prepared to use. They say the city’s proposed five-year capital plan for school construction, first released in November, undersells the city’s need for additional classrooms and suggests that the city isn’t ready to make the most of new federal funds.
Expanding the capital plan would allow the city to take advantage of the stimulus money, Leonie Haimson, a parent advocate who is one of the chairs of the Campaign for A Better Capital Plan, said at the press conference. A revised draft of the capital plan proposal is due to be released next month.
The city cannot afford to continue spending on school construction as it has in the past, according to the proposed capital plan. But speaker after speaker today said the city should be planning to invest in infrastructure projects during the recession, rather than cutting back on them.
“It’s a win-win-win situation,” Comptroller William Thompson said about building new schools. Thompson, who is running for mayor, said using federal funds to ramp up school construction would create jobs, help communities, and set individual children up for long-term success.
One worry is that the state and city might try to use federal stimulus funds to fill in gaps in their education budgets, rather than adding new efforts on top of existing ones. “It’s to build schools, reduce overcrowding, reduce class size — that’s what this money should be used for,” said Robert Jackson, head of the City Council’s education committee. Jackson said he’s planning to vote against the city’s capital plan unless it is changed substantially.
“We have to be vigilant” to protect against supplantation, said council member Bill deBlasio. “We’ve been sold a bill of goods one time to many on education. … If it gets by us this time, shame on all of us.”
At the State Senate hearing today, Chancellor Joel Klein said the city could build new schools if the federal plan includes money for construction.