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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Statement from Noah Gotbaum, Candidate for City Council, District 6


By Noah Gotbaum | West Side Spirit | February 28, 2013
Concerns that the Department of Education has offered PS 199 (West 70th St) and PS 191 (West 61st St) as development sites to be demolished and then rebuilt inside of luxury apartment towers has spread like wildfire through our community.  And with good reason.  DOE’s consultants drafted and distributed a detailed 80-page “Request for Expressions of Interest” memorandum for developers interested in the sites - and subsequently received dozens of draft plans – which could hugely and negatively impact thousands of children, families and community members without so much as a phone call to our elected officials, Community Board 7, Community Education Council (CEC3), and the affected school communities.
And while ensuring multiple and attractive “benefits” to the prospective developers – including “markets starved of luxury housing” – the DOE memorandum is far less concerned with the negative impacts on our schools and community. The memorandum neither requests nor proposes a definitive and clear plan or discussion of the developers’ (or the DOE’s) responsibilities to our families and community during construction or even where those displaced students would go. Equally troubling, the proposal expects that the new schools will be no larger than the current schools. This despite significant overcrowding district-wide – including at 199 as well as 191 – and a district-wide push for new seats, especially at the middle school level. Incredibly, the DOE proposal doesn’t even require developers to provide additional space for the influx of hundreds of additional school-age families who inevitably will be drawn to the new developments which actively market our schools as a key amenity.

But perhaps the most concerning issue is a developer’s ability to undertake the projects “as of right,” outside of the ULURP process and without community board review or City Council approval that might rectify the project’s shortcomings or scuttle it completely. In fact, the documents provided by the DOE to developers cite this avoidance of local input and accountability “an important element to the... program... which specifically benefits developers.”
When called out on these and a range of other issues by Borough President Stringer and City Council Member Brewer in strongly-worded letters to Chancellor Walcott, the DOE’s point person on the projects, Jamie Smarr, commenced meetings with elected officials, school officials and the CEC. He claimed that our fears were unfounded, dismissed many of the most contentious points in the offering plan, and promised me and my fellow CEC members written confirmation that the projects WILL indeed be subject to ULURP’s detailed community planning review.
Unfortunately, Mr. Smarr has now left the DOE and no written confirmation of any formal (or informal) community review role – including ULURP - has been received by the CEC or other officials as far as we know.
Some counsel patience and an open-mind in regard to these proposals. I certainly believe that we need to seek creative public/private solutions to build more schools, to strengthen our tax base and to provide more affordable housing. But we have been told that the funding provided under these schemes will simply go to plug operating budgets rather than solve our massive overcrowding, class size and affordable housing issues. And having witnessed the Mayor’s and his DOE’s disdain for community, parent and elected official input over the past 7 years as a public school parent and an elected parent leader – and the lack of any real checks and balances inherent in the current system of Mayoral Control over our 1700
schools – I know that we all must be incredibly skeptical and vigilant during the last 10 months of this administration, and not just in regard to these proposed projects.
The unilateral demolitions proposed at PS 199 and PS 191 are similar to the destruction caused by false competition and infighting driven by the unprecedented wave of charter school co-locations currently slated for our district and the City. In preparing to close the largest group of schools in City’s history - most of which received hugely increased burdens with no support - the Mayor is demolishing entire school communities, their student bodies and all but erasing their histories. And in constantly attacking and blaming the working men and women who teach in our schools, or who safely ferry our children on buses, and provide care for those with special needs – including my own children – the Mayor demolishes the necessary collaborative fabric that makes our West Side community and this city great.
Thus we must fight tooth and nail for our families and community at PS 199 and PS 191 and beyond, as we did 4 years ago in conjunction with Borough President Stringer’s “War Rooms” to get the DOE to admit that its planning process is completely flawed, and to set up PS 452 to relieve overcrowding at PS 87 and PS 199. We must band together to demand that developers take far greater responsibility for the increased burdens they put on our community and infrastructure as we tried to do at Riverside Center; and we must ensure that all kids and communities count equally as this community did so beautifully – alongside Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and Councilmember Brewer - in fighting the eviction of Innovation Diploma Plus High School from the Brandeis Campus. Ours is a strong and principled community with great elected representatives. We all must pull together to ensure that the needs of our children and our community, are met.
Noah E. Gotbaum is former President Community Education Council District 3 (CEC3) and current Co- Chair of its Overcrowding, Charter School and Space Utilization Committee. He is a newly announced candidate for City Council on the Upper West Side.

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