Financial Hype, Flawed Policies, and Corruption Abound in NYC Schools
Richard Carranza, the latest chancellor of the New York City Department of Education (DOE), has announced his desire to see an increase of $17 billion for the schools over a four-year period, F.Y. 2020-2024. That's right: "billion." These additional funds will go to pay for greater accessibility for disabled students, building thousands of new classrooms (many students find themselves today in temporary classrooms in trailers), air conditioning of all classrooms, and enhanced bandwidth technology and technology software for use in the classrooms.
We must wonder why New Yorkers now need a $17-billion school building program. Could this be connected to the failed policies of the previous NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and his schools chancellor, Joel Klein? They systematically closed so-called failing high schools and turned those properties into three or four academy schools. Those closures were based on the New Vision ideal of small academy schools as being more agreeable learning environments for less academically inclined students. This lowered the student population in each of those large buildings, which added significantly to the space crunch. For example, this writer taught in a high school that became three small academy high schools and, in so doing, went from 2,700 students to an official enrollment of 1,950. Space for the other 750 students had to be found elsewhere. Often overcrowding in other high schools resulted, and New Yorkers are still in that dismal dilemma of studying in unduly restrictive environments. So we see a failed policy of eliminating comprehensive high schools, supposedly to improve student achievement, which has not improved student achievement, but has led inexorably to a shortage of space.
By 1999, the Board of Education adopted a $7-billion, five-year plan for 32 projects, creating 33,000 new seats. But by 2001, the DOE was still $2.3 billion short. The original 32 projects were cut back to 21 and then were downsized to only 11 schools by 2005. As for temporary schools and trailers, Bloomberg promised they would be eliminated by 2012, but after he left office and the new mayor, Bill "Lefty" de Blasio, appointed Chancellor Carmen Farina, she promised that all temporary classrooms would be gone within five years. However, the most support she could garner was a $2-billion state bond issue.
The irony is that now, twenty years later, Carranza is proposing $7.88 billion (almost the same amount as was sought in 1999) for 83,000 new seats, despite inflation. So, in effect, this ever growing shortage of space has been addressed by five successive chancellors and never resolved. The phonies of education create problems by bad policy and then find themselves blabbing endlessly about financial correctives to those problems, which correctives do not materialize. This creepy hype is an exercise in futility of mega-proportions.
What about spending for air conditioning? In April 2017, a year before Mr. Carranza took his position at the DOE, it was already announced that $28.7 million would be allocated to install air conditioning in all public schools. Why, then, is this matter being presented again only one year later by Carranza as though it were a new initiative? In fact, the public was told even in 2016, only two years ago, of a $50-million five-year program to air-condition the schools. At the same time, even in 2015, only one year earlier, the public was told that 74% of all classrooms in the city were air-conditioned. Yet now, three years later, the chancellor is trying to tout his initiative as particularly proactive. This writer sees too much hype and too little action.
The financing associated with these facilities and the hype surrounding the marketing is only part of an even bigger issue: the legendary corruption of the School Construction Authority (SCA) in New York City. This writer taught in the 1990s in an old high school that was being renovated. The original renovation of the old structure was projected at a cost of $27 million in 1988, but by 1994, the estimated projected cost of the renovation had risen to (please grab hold of a secure object to keep from falling off your chair) $99 million. When invited to a meeting with the SCA project manager for the building, this writer asked the foreman of the project why there was such an incredible cost overrun. His answer just brushed off my question. He said, "Even with home contracting, there are always cost overruns." Thus, when Mr. Carranza says $17 billion, which is already a high figure, one wonders what the final astronomical expenditures will come to if he should even be able to obtain these funds. Further, the DOE has been talking about classroom space needs and air-conditioning for years and years, as well as wheelchair accessibility. Where have all those past allocations gone?
Not much has changed since Lincoln Steffans wrote Shame of Our Cities, revealing big-city corruption, in 1904. For more than a century, the rapacious masters of the Democrat urban machines have been exploiting the needs of the minority people and poor people who have massively migrated to population centers like NYC. These political hacks are why blacks and other traditional Democratic masses in our cities are beginning to move out of this plantation mentality allegiance to the "massa" and the hype of the welfare state. They are joining #walkaway.