Students from New York City’s poorest families and neighborhoods attend school in some of the most neglected buildings in the city, according to a report issued today by 32BJ SEIU.
Schools in the most impoverished Census tracts are in the worst condition, according to “Falling Further Apart: Decaying Schools in New York City’s Poorest Neighborhoods.” The higher the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals, the worse the condition of the facility.
“New York’s public schools have served as a stepping stone to the middle class, but that stepping stone is crumbling away,” 32BJ President Hector J. Figueroa said. “The City should be fighting against inequality, not reinforcing it with inadequate and unequal of facilities.”
The report cites a study that links the condition of school facilities to academic performance.
Jumaane Williams, Co-Vice Chair of the City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus, said the disparity in building conditions disproportionately affects children of color, potentially widening the academic achievement gap.
“A strong public school system is one of the few tools we have to fight inequality,” Williams said. “Failure to maintain school facilities is allowing those most at risk to fall further behind.”
Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, added. “By investing unequally, we send a message to our most vulnerable students that their success matters less than that of students in better-maintained facilities.”
Ocynthia Williams of United Parents of Highbridge said she was alarmed by the disparity in building conditions.
“The City can keep waging a war about test scores and teacher quality, but it has the power to control the quality of school buildings,” Williams said. “They can make sure the heat is on, that the toilets work, and that the doors are locked. The City is failing those students who need a stable and safe learning and community environment the most.”
Zakiyah Ansari, Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Quality Education, said, “The achievement gap in New York City is huge, with enormous disparities between districts and schools. In 2011, 79 percent of students in Tribeca and 74 percent in Lenox Hill were ready for community college compared to 11 percent in Brownsville and 8 percent in Mott Haven who weren’t. This is not fair.”
The report found that schools awaiting replacement of light fixtures containing toxic PCBs have a higher percentage of nonwhite students than the schools where the toxic fixtures have been replaced.
“It isn’t fair, and it isn’t safe,” said Rahn Wade, a school cleaner at a school that the report identifies as having PCB-contaminated light fixtures.
“The 32BJ report helps to illuminate part of the poverty crisis that exists across the country,” said Mark Cannizzaro, Executive Vice President, the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. “In a culture of haves and have nots, there is a double standard in almost everything, including housing, health and education. The needs of low-income families are often left unmet, with the children living in residential spaces and attending school buildings that undermine their health, safety and learning potential.”
32BJ Vice President Shirley Aldebol blamed the problem largely on reckless budget cuts.
“New York City spends a smaller percentage of its total education budget on maintenance and operations than most other large school districts in the country, and the percentage of the City’s education budget dedicated to facilities keeps shrinking,” she said.
Robert Troller, President of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 891, added, “The members of Local 891 are outraged by the numerous cuts to custodial budgets. System-wide we have lost the equivalent of 1000 full time custodial workers. The current custodial budgets are inadequate to provide the level of service the children of this city deserve. The health and safety of the school children are compromised when there is inadequate custodial staffing.”