Category Archives: Education

City’s Capital Plan Grows: More Projects, Some More Spending

Posted by Ana M. Ventura, November 9, 2009

A number of fiscal mavens have voiced concerns in recent months that the city’s capital budget is too big and unaffordable. These concerns have not escaped the notice of Mayor Bloomberg, who has sought to reduce the amount the city spends on debt service—the interest and principal the city pays to borrow money for capital projects such as building schools, fixing roads, and buying fire trucks—by scaling back the city’s 10-year capital plan.

So it may come as a surprise to many observers that the city’s latest Adopted Capital Commitment Plan, which covers four years, has grown by hundreds of projects and millions of dollars. The Adopted Capital Commitment Plan, released in September, presents information on how much the city has appropriated in the current fiscal year and next three years for capital projects and a timeline for committing those project funds. This latest plan adds $708 million (adjusted for capital funds made available in 2009 but now pushed into the new plan) and nearly 700 capital projects, compared to the prior plan released in conjunction with the Mayor’s Executive Budget last spring. As in past years, the largest shares of capital funding go to school and environmental projects.

The city’s four-year capital plan allocates $38.4 billion for projects. Included in the plan total is $1.5 billion allocated at the request of the City Council and $680 million by the Borough Presidents. Roughly 80 percent of the funding comes from the city, with the remaining $7.8 billion coming from federal, state, and private grants.

These funds support nearly 7,400 projects (including school projects that are itemized separately in the city’s financial management system). The Adopted Capital Commitment Plan includes 941 new capital projects and drops 244 projects that were part of the prior plan. The new projects include 390 sponsored by the City Council and 108 sponsored by the Borough Presidents. Out of all the new projects certain types were among those most commonly added: there are 123 new citywide equipment purchases and 101 new parks and recreational facilities projects.

Nearly half of the plan’s total budget—$19.0 billion—is scheduled to be committed in fiscal year 2010. The rest of the funds are expected to be committed over the next three years: $6.9 billion in fiscal year 2011, $5.6 billion in fiscal year 2012, and $6.8 billion in fiscal year 2013. While the total for 2010 appears comparatively large, it is actually bulked up by previously authorized funds. Because some types of capital projects frequently fall behind schedule, the level of funds authorized by the Mayor’s budget office typically exceeds the expected commitments by about 35 percent.

Roughly $7.1 billion in capital funds were transferred, or rolled, from fiscal year 2009 into the new plan. Most capital funds rolled from a prior fiscal year tend to be allocated to the next year, as is the case under the new plan. But some of the funds rolled forward are also allocated to later years of the Capital Commitment Plan. Largely because of the funds rolled forward from 2009, the new plan is roughly 25 percent bigger than the prior $30.6 billion four-year plan.

But if you subtract the rollover funds, the latest plan still provides $708 million more (2.3 percent) than the prior plan. Almost all of this increase comes from additional city funding; about 1 percent of the $708 million comes from other sources.

Despite challenging economic times and recent actions by the Bloomberg Administration to curtail long-term city-funded capital spending, the city’s capital program continues to expand moderately.

Schools and Trailer Parks

Posted by Sarita Subramanian and Doug Turetsky, June 25, 2009

As the school year winds down, kids at more than 100 city schools may be thinking it’s the last time they’ll be going to class in a so-called Transportable Classroom Unit—more commonly known as a trailer. In fact, thousands of students will again be calling a trailer their classroom come September, and probably for many Septembers more. It wasn’t always supposed to be this way.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s five-year school construction plan for city fiscal years 2005-2009, his first under mayoral control of the schools, included the goal of reducing the use of transportables to just swing space when a school building was being repaired, and to completely eliminate their use by 2012 (see IBO’s School Capital Plan Counts on More Seats, Falling Enrollment to Ease Overcrowding).

As of the 2007-2008 school year, there were 402 trailers in use at 131 schools. That meant nearly 10,500 elementary and middle schoolers called a trailer their classroom (because high school students don’t have home rooms, there is no enrollment data for transportables separate from a high school’s main building). Numerous schools had multiple trailers parked in their schoolyards: At P.S. 19 in Queens, for example, 245 children attended class in five trailers.

So it may come as no surprise that the Mayor’s latest five-year school construction plan for 2010-2014, which the City Council approved last week, no longer aims to eliminate the use of transportables.

The trailers came into increasing use in the 1990s as rising enrollments swelled well past the capacities of many school buildings and the news media featured stories about classes being held in closets, hallways, and perhaps most vividly, bathrooms. The Giuliani Administration saw the transportables as a relatively quick and cheap way to temporarily alleviate school overcrowding until more seats could be added in new or existing school buildings. The assumption was the trailers would be gone in about 10 years.

As the city has added classroom seats and enrollment leveled off, overcrowding eased in some places. But there are many schools that remain overcrowded, and many of the trailers are overcrowded too.

In school year 2007-2008, trailers at 93 elementary and middle schools citywide were at an average of nearly 121 percent of capacity. That meant more than 6,400 students attended class in overcrowded trailers.

In Queens, where school overcrowding has generally been highest, there were trailers at 40 schools containing classrooms for more than 4,000 children, with average usage at 111 percent of capacity. It was a bit tighter in Brooklyn, where trailers at 27 schools were at an average of 119 percent of capacity. But it was even more cramped in the Bronx: trailers at 20 schools were stretching their seams at an average of nearly 134 percent of capacity. Manhattan and Staten Island had relatively few trailers.

With multiple transportables at many schools, the schoolyards can sometimes look more like a trailer park than a play space for kids. The lack of play space at many schools has been of particular concern to Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, who has introduced a bill that would require the education department to report annually on the availability of outdoor play space at city schools and the continued use of transportables.

The Bloomberg Administration has also recognized the effect of trailers on the availability of schools’ outdoor play space. The just approved 2010-2014 school construction plan makes note of the PlaNYC long-term initiative to ensure that there is a playground within a 10-minute walk for every child.

Senate Bill Not So Stimulating for Public Schools?

Posted by George Sweeting, February 9, 2009

One of the most eye-popping numbers in the Mayor’s budget presentation last month was the threat of 14,000 teacher layoffs. Unless the state restores school aid that the Governor has proposed cutting to help solve Albany’s own budget woes, the Mayor said the teachers would have to go. The Mayor’s real point to state lawmakers may have been in the context of the federal stimulus bill: pass along our fair share of any assistance the state receives from the bill that’s intended to avoid cuts in local education aid.

This gambit got a lot dicier over the weekend as it emerged that the single biggest change in the Senate leadership’s compromise with Senate moderates was scaling back money to help states maintain their local school aid. Helping states and local school districts cope with sharp declines in tax revenues by providing temporary federal aid helps to avoid layoffs and cutbacks in local school district spending, which would worsen the economic contraction.

The deal, which awaits passage by the full Senate and then reconciliation with the House bill, cuts the state fiscal stabilization fund essentially in half, from $79 billion to $39 billion. Assuming this smaller stabilization amount is maintained, the state will receive less and in turn would have less available to restore the school aid cut to the city. If the Mayor sticks to his guns and does not come up with city dollars to make up the shortfall, the possibility of teacher layoffs may be more real than many observers had assumed.

In December, the Governor’s Executive Budget proposal for the upcoming state fiscal year called for cuts in education aid to local school districts, including postponing increases that had been promised as part of the resolution to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. The Bloomberg Administration has estimated that the change amounts to a loss of $771 million in anticipated state aid for the Department of Education.

The stimulus bill that emerged from the House in late January included the $79 billion fiscal stabilization fund along with language that directed states to send much of their stabilization money on to local school districts using each state’s existing school aid formula. Analysis of the House bill by the Congressional Research Service indicated that New York State could expect to receive nearly $2 billion in stabilization aid which—assuming it was distributed according to current state aid formulas—might have brought the city nearly $800 million, almost exactly offsetting the Governor’s proposed cut.

An earlier version of the Senate bill still had a $79 billion stabilization fund, but was less clear as to how the states should distribute the proceeds to local school districts. That lack of certainty may have been what led the Mayor to make it clear that he expected New York State to distribute the anticipated federal dollars under the current state formula—or 14,000 city teachers could get the axe. Arguing that the city didn’t have enough of its own funds to plug the $771 million hole in state school aid, Mayor Bloomberg was placing the responsibility for avoiding the layoffs on Albany’s doorstep.

With the possibility that the stimulus bill may contain less than half the aid to states than what was expected last week, it may be harder for Albany to fully restore the education aid to the city even if the federal dollars are distributed by current state formula. This raises the possibility that the Mayor’s bluff would be called and he, the City Council, and the schools could be confronting the layoff of thousands of teachers.