Sunset group demands more seats, new schools for local students

Make Space for Quality Schools in Sunset Park, a campaign made up of parents and organizations to demand greater accountability from the School Construction Authority (SCA) and the Department of Education (DOE), has recently accelerated its effort to get more schools in the area through marches and meetings with Community Board 7.

On Saturday, October 15, nearly 50 parents marched along a route connecting several possible school sites, including what was once a grocery store at 45th Street and Eighth Avenue and the Sunny Hotel, which is now the Phoenix Hotel, at Fifth Avenue and 39th Street, that the SCA has turned down without reason, according to the group.

Then on Tuesday, October 17, the group’s co-founder Javier Salamanca voiced a variety of demands, including adding more seats to District 15, during a CB 7 meeting.

“Based on the DOE’s own numbers, this community is over 3,000 seats short,” he said. “That’s a lot of schools and if we don’t start building as soon as possible, this issue is going to linger longer.”

Photos courtesy of Make Space for Quality Schools in Sunset Park

The group’s first demand is the creation of at least 3,500 seats by 2021 with construction  to begin by 2017.  “We want a timeline when the money is allocated, so that they actually are going to put shovels on the ground and they are going to say this is turning into a school because even if everything goes great, it still takes three years to build a school,” he added.

CB 7 District Manager Jeremy Laufer agreed. “It would take a few years to get any new school built and that doesn’t do anything for children who are in overcrowded situations right now,” he said. “So another thing we want to ask for is additional resources for the schools that are currently overcrowded to bring up the quality of education that those students receive compared to students that are not in overcrowded situations.”

During the meeting, Laufer also asked city officials to use eminent domain and requested that the SCA build schools above Third Avenue, away from industrial and commercial areas, for safety’s sake.

Laufer also stressed the importance of community involvement. “We want parents to be able to find a way to be involved to give their input,” he said. “We think we should build a committee of parents that are trained and can see the process through.”

Carlos Zuniga, chair of the Education Committee of CB 7, concurred. “I would love for the community board is to play more of an advocacy role in this because we’re past the point of brainstorming,” he said. “Something has to happen soon and we need to leverage whatever stake we have in this and do some meaningful advocacy work on this.”

During its monthly meeting on Wednesday, October 17, CB 7 voted to support the guidelines articulated during the committee meeting.

“I think it’s great,” Salamanca told this paper. “CB 7, Councilmember [Carlos] Menchaca, and other organizations have endorsed platform. If there’s no urgency, there will just be more delays.”

Photos courtesy of Make Space for Quality Schools in Sunset Park

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