May 9, 2013
By Marc Bussanich

Jumaane Williams joins Hector Figueroa to announce report on decaying schools
32BJ’s Hector Figueroa (l.) and Councilman Jumaane Williams

New York, NY—Councilman Jumaane Williams said outside the Department of Education on Wednesday that the disparities in the public school system make New York a segregated city. He was joined by Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito and Hector Figueroa of 32BJ to announce the release of a new report that highlights how disinvestment in public schools’ infrastructure is contributing to a widening achievement gap. Watch Video

The report, “Falling Further Apart: Decaying Schools in New York City’s Poorest Neighborhoods,” reveals New York City public school students are racially segregated and economically unequal and that students from the poorest neighborhoods attend schools that are in the worst physical condition.

According to 32BJ, the union that represents building service workers, the decaying of public school buildings, due to deferred maintenance and inadequate facilities funding, mostly exist in low-income, African-American and Latino communities. The union is demanding that the City and the Department of Education start allocating more money into schools’ facilities budgets.

Rahn Wade works as a school cleaner at P.S. 197 in Harlem where there are light fixtures contaminated by PCBs.

“I’ve been working at the school for 12 years and no matter how hard we work to keep the school safe we can’t keep up because the budget is always being cut.”

The report notes the City’s schools are among the most segregated in the country.

“More than 60 percent of the City’s public school students attend schools where the population is more than 90 percent nonwhite; and more than half of the City’s public schools have student populations that are at least 90 percent black or Hispanic.” 

The report cites where a high concentration of segregated students attend school are in areas such as the south Bronx, northern Manhattan and central and east Brooklyn.

The report also cites State of New York and the National Center for Education Statistics’ data that shows New York City public school students are poorer than the national average.

“Almost 80 percent of the City’s public school students qualify for free or reduced priced meals—significantly higher than the national average of 48 percent.”

Students from the poorest families and neighborhoods attend some of the most neglected school buildings in the City. Because poorer students are generally nonwhite, this disparity in building conditions predominantly affects Black, Latino and other nonwhite schoolchildren, according to the report.

Some of the schools in the worst condition include P.S. 152 in the Bronx, I.S. 238 in Queens and P.S 028 in Manhattan, which suffer from some of the worst aspects of deferred maintenance.

In March, Schools Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm testified before a City Council education hearing to say that the City is committing over $800 million to remove dangerous PCBs from lighting fixtures but the project to remove them will last 10 years.

Mr. Figueroa told Labor Press that the presence of PCBs in decaying and dilapidated schools is just the tip of the iceberg.

“We shouldn’t have to wait ten years for PCBs to be removed. But that’s not all. There are schools that easily flood, they are not green energy efficient and are in severe disrepair. We need to find the revenues to fix our schools as opposed to a plan to fix one problem over ten years,” said Figueroa.

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