New York City Education Chancellor Cathie Black made headlines two weeks into her new post by joking that birth control could allievate overcrowded classrooms. The uproar over that remark has died down, but the debate over classroom sizes continues.
Millennium High School in lower Manhattan is one of the ten most overcrowded public schools in New York City according to the city’s independent budget office. Although the school has the classroom capacity to seat 525 students, it is 105 percent over capacity with 647 students.
According to school officials, class sizes are capped at 34 students. In order to accommodate the student population, the school holds dozens of classes each week in the hallways, cafeteria and lounges. Hannah Fentan, a junior at the school, said the makeshift classrooms are not conducive to learning. “It’s a lot harder because things echo and we can’t hear each other as well.”
Angela Benfield is a parent coordinator at Millenium. She said that although the school is still one of the best in the city, growing class sizes have put that standing in jeopardy: “The students that are here now are definitely getting less than those that were here two or three years ago.”
Benfield has two children enrolled in Millennium, one freshman and one senior. She said when her oldest child entered high school the average class size was about 27. However, she said her youngest child’s average class size is around 32. “It might not seem like a big difference but for every student that is so much more time from the teacher and the teacher has less individual time from the students,” Benfield said. “I’m glad I have kids in high school and they’ll be out of the system in a few years because I see it getting worse.”
New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has also noted that Lower Manhattan itself has changed a lot in the last few years, and that this has contributed to the overcrowding. He said in a written statement that the area has seen an “explosive population growth in recent years, with young families in particular attracted to our neighborhood.” The growth has created increased pressure on area schools, he said, and “the Department of Education has simply not kept up with the demand for school space.”
Additionally, Millennium High School is one of many in the city that have lost government funding over the past few years. Since 2008, Millennium experienced a 15.5 percent cut in its annual budget. As a result, the school resorted to increasing its student enrollment in order to make up for budget shortfalls. Benfield said that having a larger student body increases the chance that a school will receive more funding from the city.
The Department of Education did not return repeated requests for comment. On January 19th the Panel for Education Policy rejected a Millennium High School bid to expand to a nearby building. At the same meeting, the panel approved the building of a second Millennium High School in Brooklyn, however it is unclear what affect the plan will have on the lower Manhattan school’s student population.
Copyright 2011 WFUV News Radio