Overcrowding was the main topic as a large group of Sunset Park parents and teachers, joined by elected officials, and members of the Citywide and District 15 Community Education Councils, descended on P.S. 516, 4222 Fourth Avenue, for a town hall meeting with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
“I think people are going to display a lot of outrage,” said Community Board 7’s Committee Chair Cesar Zuniga before the meeting, held on Tuesday, November 24. “We know the impact that education has on the future of children and I think that it’s not acceptable to hear the same old story that they don’t have the space, and they’re working on it.”
Before parents and community advocates were given the opportunity to ask Fariña questions, CEC co-Vice President Henry Carrier also voiced his concerns in a presentation.
“Our elementary schools here are over capacity and more overcrowded than the city schools as a whole,” he said. “We’re consistently told there aren’t any sites to build schools yet there are other buildings going up for other reasons. We’re all being reasonable here but what progress is being made while we see buildings going up in district?”
Founder of Friends of Sunset Park Maria Roca was one of many parents to voice her opinion. She presented Fariña with a petition containing 1,000 signatures from members of the community whose children face the issue of overcrowded and under-performing schools.
“The schools are not functioning in a way they should be functioning because of the issue of overcrowding,” she said. “It’s been going on in Sunset Park for probably 20 years.”
“We are angered year after year, there is no plan for coming up with sites for Sunset Park,” added parent Johanna Bjorken. “We come to a meeting and again what we hear from you is ‘Let us know if you see a good spot.’ That’s not going to work.”
With the recent arrest of the owners of a Sunset hotel for allegedly running a prostitution ring on the premises fresh in her mind, Roca told Fariña, “A hotel owner should not come before a child.”
“I will keep it in mind. I will look at what you gave us and I will get back to your superintendent after the holidays,” Fariña promised.
President of the PTA at P.S. 169 Mimi Ferrer went into how overcrowding has affected her kids. “My fifth graders are eating lunch at 1 p.m. They dismiss at 2:30. My kids aren’t eating right,” she said. “How do you expect them to function when they don’t even have a proper time to eat? You can only fit a certain amount in the cafeteria.”
“I will be speaking to the principal to see what is happening and what could be made better,” Fariña responded.
After the meeting, Councilmember Carlos Menchaca spoke with this paper. “In Sunset Park, Districts 15 and 20, a major concern is overcrowded schools,” he said, adding that he was still waiting to hear from the DOE as to whether it was looking into using eminent domain to get the necessary land to build new schools.
“We need schools to get built now,” Menchaca stressed.