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Campaign for Fiscal Equity

Weeks of November 16 and November 23

Conditions in New York:

NYC has an incredibly large and complicated system of school facilities, over 1,500 buildings serving over 1.1 million students. Most of these buildings are over 50 years old, and some are considerably older.

There are three major deficiencies in NYC's school facilities:

  1. Buildings have not been properly maintained. As a result, many pose environmental risks to students and will only lead to more costly capital projects in the future.
  2. Despite recent efforts by the City to reduce class sizes, many buildings are over-capacity, which hinders efforts to make classes smaller. Some City schools are even forced to hold classes in hallways and bathrooms.
  3. Many NYC schools lack the science labs, wiring, classroom space and space for art, music and gym to meet the state's new, tougher Learning Standards.

CFE's position:

The State bears the overwhelming responsibility for the underfunding of school facilities in New York City, and in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers and other districts throughout the state. In 1988, state officials recognized that "the elementary and secondary schools of the City of New York are in deplorable physical condition. Many of the schools are overcrowded, unsafe, unhealthy and unusable. The physical deterioration of the schools is a serious impediment in learning and teaching." In the last ten years, these problems have only persisted or gotten worse. But despite its extraordinary facilities needs, the City receives less than its fair share of State Building Aid and is reimbursed for capital expenses at a lower rate than the state average.

Problems like overcrowding, poor ventilation and a lack of climate control prevent students from learning at high levels. At the same time, shoddy buildings send a message to students that school is not an important place.

In order to have a real opportunity for a sound basic education, students need buildings that are not overcrowded, that include the necessary space – such as science labs, gyms, and art studios – for all essential areas of the curriculum, and that are accessible to students with physical disabilities.

Witnesses for plaintiffs on this issue include:

Patricia Zedalis, Chief Executive, Division of School Facilities, New York City Board of Education

Helaine Doran, Senior Policy Analyst for Education at the Office of the New York City Public Advocate.

Elspeth Taylor, former Chief Information Officer, New York City Board of Education

Ms. Zedalis testified about the condition of City school buildings, including antiquated electric and heating systems, and aging buildings that have not been modernized. More than half the existing school facilities in NYC were built before 1940, and at least 120 City schools – more than 10% – still use coal fire boilers to heat the buildings.

Ms. Doran presented a study of overcrowding conducted by the NYC Public Advocate's Office. The report showed an alarming lack of space and facilities that is hindering the City's efforts to reduce class size. Sixty-one percent of the City's elementary schools are operating at or above capacity. The report also surveyed 43 City public schools in depth and found enormous deficiencies in art rooms, cafeterias, and rooms for special services.

State's anticipated position:

State attorneys and their experts are expected to argue that poorly maintained buildings do not hinder students' ability to obtain a sound basic education. They have also suggested that overcrowding does not in any way affect students' ability to learn. In fact, in her opening statement before the court, Harriet Rosen, Assistant Attorney General, argued that "the most crowded schools are often the successful schools . . . . [O]vercrowding is more a result of good education than a condition leading to inadequate education."

Parents from across the state march on the Capitol in Albany to show support for CFE.
CFE Litigation CFE v. State of New York
In 2006, after 13 years in the Courts, the New York State Court of Appeals affirmed the right of every public school student in New York to the opportunity for a sound basic education and the state’s responsibility to adequately fund this right, but deferred to the Governor and the Legislature to determine the appropriate amount. more >