The city Panel for Educational Policy voted in favor of temporarily relocating hundreds of Woodside students to a school on the other side of the district in Astoria, disappointing parents and lawmakers who had long issued scathing criticism for the plan they were hoping Mayor de Blasio’s administration would overturn.
Elected officials from all levels of government came out against the plan, which will send about 250 kindergarteners from PS 11 in Woodside to PS 171 in Astoria as their home school undergoes an expansion project. The PEP passed the proposal last Wednesday night with a 7-2 vote and one abstention after city Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña urged officials to delay a vote last month to allow more time for debate.
“It is unconscionable that in the face of vehement objections from many parents and community members, the Department of Education is moving forward with a plan to bus kindergartners from Woodside to a school almost three miles away in Astoria,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx). “I have maintained that the expansion of PS 11 is a necessary investment in our children’s education and is vitally important to alleviating our overcrowded schools. However, I am disappointed and troubled by the DOE’s lack of foresight to avoid this terrible situation.”
The PEP delayed its vote on the subject two times – once last month and earlier this year after elected officials called on the city to reconsider its stance and hear more opposing opinions. Lawmakers, including state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth), Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), and Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) penned a letter to the DOE urging alternative options.
“I am disappointed that the Department of Education could not find alternative options suggested by PS 11 parents which kept their children closer to home,” Van Bramer said. “While the expansion of PS 11 is essential to addressing the overcrowding in the neighborhood, it is important that the Department of Education continue to work with the community in an effort to provide our children with the proper academic environment that is necessary for them to succeed.”
Queens PEP appointee Deborah Dillingham argued that students should instead be taken to St. Teresa’s Catholic School in Woodside. PS 199 currently rents the first floor of the St. Teresa School for its kindergarten classes, but the second and third floors of the building are unoccupied, officials said. The plan received praise from some elected officials like Borough President Melinda Katz and state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood), but was ultimately shot down.
“We have worked hard to provide the DOE with reasonable alternatives, including
but not limited to space at PS 313, PS 339 and a former Catholic school leased by the DOE called St. Teresa’s,” Nolan said. “In years past, hundreds of students from PS 199 have used the St Teresa’s building. It would have been a reasonable solution.”
PS 11 parent Martin Connolly will have three kids attending PS 11 by the fall and has been at the forefront of the parental opposition to the plan.
“Unfortunately the best interests of our children were placed behind school district politics and priorities and intransigence within the DOE,” he said. “There were other, closer options for year one of re-siting – they just happened to be located in District 24 not District 30.”
By Phil Corso