Fariña says school overcrowding hard to solve
Chancellor tells parents, ‘I cannot build a building overnight’
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña came to a town hall in Bay Ridge Wednesday night and faced a surprising number of questions about a housing controversy in southwest Brooklyn and its impact on school overcrowding.
Questions from the audience included the topic of so-called illegal home conversions — where developers subdivide one- and two-family homes into multiple units and create apartment buildings — in neighborhoods like Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst.
Longtime residents have said they believed illegal home conversions are bringing large numbers of new residents into the area and are adding to an already existing problem of school overcrowding.
“Is there anything the Department of Education can do?” said Mark Bramante, vice president of the Community Education Council (CEC) of School District 20, reading aloud a question written by an audience member. The CEC was the host of the town hall, which took place at McKinkey Intermediate School at 7301 Fort Hamilton Parkway.
One parent suggested that the Department of Education (DOE) send students home with letters for parents warning about the dangers of living in illegally subdivided housing.
But Fariña said it was important to proceed with caution when it comes to the issue of illegal home conversions.
“This does not have an easy answer,” she said, adding that she feared a move like sending letters home would stigmatize students who live in illegal housing. “I don’t want kids to feel unwelcome in our schools. This message could be read as a way of not welcoming,” she said.
Besides, Fariña said, the issue is not really within the DOE’s purview to solve. “It’s not the Department of Education’s role to play, it’s more housing,” she said.
Still, the chancellor expressed sympathy for overcrowded schools and admitted that District 20 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Borough Park and Sunset Park) does have a problem.
“I know you’re overcrowded,” she said, adding that whenever she comes to the district, she looks for “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs on buildings as possible sites for schools.
“I cannot build a building overnight,” Fariña said.
The town hall touched on a variety of topics. Audience members were required to write their questions down to be read aloud by Bramante.
Fariña defended Common Core, the controversial approach to education that seeks to raise standards. “I believe in Common Core,” she said. Any problems with Common Core stem from the fact that “we didn’t implement it correctly,” she said.
The chancellor said there has been a misunderstanding. “Common Core is not a curriculum. It’s a set of strategies,” she said. The classroom lessons are things children will need to know in a 21st Century world, like technology skills, she said. “It’s not about operating a computer. It’s about programming a computer,” Fariña said.
Fariña, who was greeted by the McKinley School Band when she entered the building, said she is a big believer in the importance of arts education.
“We put an extra $25 million into the arts this year,” she said. The arts are important because they “teach good work habits,” she said.
Nick Koven, president of the CEC’s High School Student Council, asked Fariña to consider repealing a regulation that bans any groups other than PTAs from holding bake sales in schools. If students could hold bake sales, it would allow schools to raise more money, Koven and the council members said. “I will take it under advisement,” the chancellor said.
Bay Ridge proved to be friendly territory for Fariña, who years ago served as the school superintendent of neighboring District 15 (Sunset Park, Windsor Terrace, Park Slope). In addition to the school band, McKinley cheerleaders also greeted Fariña, giving her a rousing cheer when she walked down the corridor leading to the auditorium. CEC President Laurie Windsor introduced Fariña to the audience as “a familiar face.”
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