CB5 Approves High School Just in Time
by Daniel Bush
Mar 17, 2009 | 990 views | 0 0 comments | 34 34 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CB5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri addresses the board.
CB5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri addresses the board.
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After months of negotiations and hearings, Community Board 5 finally approved a proposed $80 million, 1,100-seat high school in Maspeth on the condition that the Department of Education DOE) meet several of the board's stipulations for the project.

The conditional approval vote came at CB5's March 11th meeting, one month after the community board stalled its decision on the project to allow for an additional thirty days of review.

Though the board voted overwhelmingly in favor of the school (33-7), it took the group yet another long bargaining session to hammer out an acceptable list of conditions to be included in the school proposal - plans CB5 hopes will be incorporated into the final plan set to go before the City Council.

The Council's Land Use Subcommittee was scheduled to vote on the school on Wednesday, March 18. If the proposal passes committee, it will move to a full council vote approximately one week later.

CB5's Education Committee chairwoman, Patricia Grayson, criticized the DOE's commitment to working with the community on the school, which is slated for 74th Street and 54th Avenue, even as she issued the board's four-part set of conditions just one week before the subcommittee vote.

"The Department of Education lies like a rug. Everything they promised us in one way or another they reneged, and that's the truth," said Grayson. However, Grayson continued, the board had little choice but to approve the school because "it all still comes down to the education of our children."

The board's first stipulation concerns enrollment priority for local students. The board requested that the new seats go first to Maspeth students from District 24 who live in the P.S. 58 catchment area, or the immediate zone surrounding the proposed school site; second to school district 24 students who live in the following zip codes: 11373, 11378, 11379, and 11385; third to the remaining students in district 24; and finally to students from the rest of Queens.

The community board also stipulated that the new school impose staggered arrival and dismissal times, create a comprehensive academic curriculum (instead of a specialized or "themed" high school), and build a cutout to ease traffic congestion and facilitate safer access to the building for special education students.

The community board and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, who spoke at the meeting, have been pushing the DOE for these changes, especially for a smaller, locally zoned school, for the past few months.

In a rare concession, the DOE scaled back its original proposal for a 1,600-seat school to the current 1,100-seat plan, and offered to give students from districts 24, 27, and 28 priority.

Dermot Smyth, speaking on behalf of the United Teachers Federation (UFT), praised CB5 and Councilwoman Crowley at the meeting for their efforts, before cautioning them, in effect, to take what they can get from the City Council this week.

"You've set an example for community groups throughout this city that if you stand up long enough, and fight hard enough, you can get what you want. You've gotten the DOE to compromise," Smyth said. "Now we have to recognize we don't want to push them too far."

However, DOE failed to commit to locally zoning the school, which was a big sticking point for the community board. Without committing to zone the school exclusively for Maspeth students, some board members feel the DOE is ensuring the school will attract students from all over Queens, and quickly become as overcrowded as nearby Grover Cleveland and Newtown high schools.

In an interview after the meeting, CB5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri said he believed the community board had worked hard on the school proposal, but didn't think it was likely DOE would adopt the group's set of recommendations.

"I think from a standpoint of a community doing an in-depth analysis of a school and coming up with a realistic conclusion, [the process] was very good," said Arcuri. "Will that analysis and conclusion be included in the final proposal? I doubt it very much."

Glendale Civic Association President and CB5 member Kathy Masi criticized DOE and the School Construction Authority (SCA) for the way they handled the long and controversial planning process for the school.

"It has been my experience with the DOE that they will try to do whatever they want regardless of our input," Masi said. "We have never meet with any educators, only the SCA, who are basically hired guns for the DOE, who will do anything, even make false promises, to get a school up."

With their role in the decision-making process now complete, and nothing left to do but await the City Council's vote, Masi praised Crowley's work on behalf of the community.

"Elizabeth Crowley has made a maverick effort to get the high school built while trying to protect the community," Masi said. "She has school-aged children and completely recognizes the importance of education."

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