Dec. 19, 2013 By Christian Murray
PS 11 in Woodside has been overcrowded for years and even with the addition of school trailers in the past decade, officials have struggled to keep pace with booming enrollment numbers.
While the Department of Education has finally put a plan in place to solve the overcrowding problems at the 54-25 Skillman Avenue school, some parents claim that the plan needs to be modified.
The School Construction Authority is currently building a new elementary school (PS 339) about a ¼ mile away from PS 11, which will cater to 470 students when it opens in September 2015. Meanwhile, an additional 300 seats will be added at PS 11 upon the completion of an annex, with construction of the annex beginning in the summer of 2014.
Martin Connolly, a parent whose son Luke is in kindergarten at PS 11, has an issue with the timing of these new developments.
The construction of the annex will result in the demolition of PS 11’s existing mini-building, which contains 200-plus seats, in 2014.
Therefore, in September 2014, with 200 fewer seats, the school will be busing about 230 kindergarten children about 2.5 miles to Astoria each day to undertake their lessons. The children will be co-located with students from P.S. 171.
Connolly has another child, Enda, who will be entering kindergarten next year and will therefore have two children at PS 11. Next year, he will have a first grader who will be going to school at the Woodside location, while his younger son Enda—who will enter Kindergarten– will be bused 2 ½ miles to Astoria each day.
Connolly said that there would be no need for the children to have to go to Astoria if the School Construction Authority waited until 2015 to demolish the mini building. By that time the new school would have been constructed and all the 230-270 children would be able to go to PS339, which is close by.
“I accept the [annex] has to be built and it is what is best for everyone,” Connolly said. “But waiting one year is not going to make much of a difference. By going ahead with in 2014 they will be dislodging 230 kids who are 4 and 5 year olds.”
Connolly said that many parents who have children that are going to enter PS 11 in 2014 are not aware of the issue. He said he has visited many pre-Ks in the area and very few knew about it.
However, the School Construction Authority has little intention to delay the construction of the annex for a year.
“Our timeline for the addition remains,” the Department of Education said in a statement. “The timeline calls for demolishing the mini building this coming summer of 2014 and then we will begin construction. Anticipated completion is September 2016.”
Anna Efkarpides, the principal of PS 11, said that there was little the school could do in terms of changing the time line. She said it’s a decision that the School Construction Authority makes.
However, Efkarpides said if the construction date were changed to 2015, the school would be taking a chance that the annex would not be funded in the following year’s budget.
“If we don’t use [the funds now] we could lose them,” she said, adding that the school has been fighting for years to get the annex built.
But Connolly argues that bureaucracy is getting in the way of common sense. He can’t understand why the city can’t provide the school with a guarantee that it will fund construction and wait a year.
Connolly is now on a campaign to raise awareness of the issue. He has been distributing fliers, visiting Pre-Ks and urging parents to reach out to the school and local politicians.
“I don’t want parents with kindergarten children to find out at the last minute that their children will be going to Astoria,” he said. “I feel that is my duty to make them aware of it now.”