Our political work has an impact on us in the workplace so it’s something we need to do in the union too.

~ Anthony Faulk, 32BJ Member, Mid-Atlantic District

Falling Further Apart: Decaying Schools in New York City’s Poorest Neighborhoods

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The New York City public school system, among the most diverse in the nation, has long been a stepping stone to the American Dream. But that stepping stone and the pathway it represents are crumbling. Years of deferred maintenance and inadequate facilities funding have taken a toll on public school buildings, with serious consequences for some of New  York City’s most vulnerable populations. Students from the poorest families and neighborhoods attend some of the most neglected school buildings in the city. Because poorer students are generally nonwhite, this disparity in building conditions predominantly affects Black, Latino and other nonwhite schoolchildren. The U.S. Green Building Council has linked the condition of school facilities with academic performance; hence, a disparity in building conditions could contribute to widening the achievement gap.

FINDINGS:

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NEW YORK CITY STUDENTS: RACIALLY SEGREGATED AND ECONOMICALLY UNEQUAL

The New York City public school student population is one of the most diverse in the country. Thousands of students are immigrants or come from immigrant families, seeking the American Dream. But that dream is far from reality – New York City’s public schools are some of the most racially segregated in the country and a greater percentage of students qualify for free or reduced price meals than the national average.

 

NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS ARE AMONG THE MOST SEGREGATED IN THE COUNTRY

New York City schools are among the most segregated in the nation. More than 60 percent of New York City public school students attend schools where the population is more than 90 percent nonwhite, and more than half of schools have student populations that are at least 90 percent black or Hispanic

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NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS ARE POORER THAN THE NATIONAL AVERAGE

Almost 80 percent of New York City public school students qualify for free or reduced price meals – significantly higher than the national average of 48 percent

Source: Analysis of data obtained from New York City Department of Education, “Demographic and Accountability Snapshot,” 2011-2012; Dataset consists of 1,509 schools.

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STUDENTS FROM THE POOREST FAMILIES AND NEIGHBORHOODS ATTEND WORSE SCHOOL BUILDINGS

New York City public schools located in the most impoverished Census tracts, on the average, are in the worst physical condition. As the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced price meals increases, average school facility quality worsens.

Studies have linked the condition of school facilities with academic performance. Because students from the poorest families and neighborhoods attend some of the most neglected school buildings in the City, and poorer students are generally nonwhite, this disparity in building conditions could be contributing to the widening achievement gap.

POOREST STUDENTS ATTEND WORST SCHOOL FACILITIES

As the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced price meals increases, the SchoolStat score decreases. (A SchoolStat is a measure of a school building’s maintenance and cleanliness; SchoolStat scores range from “5=Good” to “1=Poor.”)

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TOXIC PCBs DISPROPORTIONATELY IMPACT POORER AND NONWHITE SCHOOLS

Although the U.S. Congress banned polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”) in 1977, many New York City public schools still use light fixtures that contain these toxic compounds, which are known to cause cancer as well as hinder cognitive and neurological development. The City removed these toxic light fixtures from over 160 schools, but schools still awaiting light fixture replacement are poorer and have a greater percentage of nonwhite students than the schools where light fixtures were replaced.

Analysis of data obtained from: New York City Department of Education, “Demographic and Accountability Snapshot,” 2011-2012; New York School Construction Authority, “Completed Light Replacements,” April 12, 2013; New York City Department of Education, “Report Pursuant to Local Law 69 (2011),” December 14, 2012; New York School Construction Authority, “Survey of School Buildings with Older T-12 Fluorescent Lighting Fixtures” September 14, 2012. Dataset consists of 885 schools.

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INSUFFICIENT FUNDING HAS LED TO INADEQUATE SCHOOL FACILITIES

New York City public school facilities and capital budgets have been cut significantly. The City spends a smaller percentage of its total education budget on maintenance and operations than six of the seven largest school districts in the country. New York City reports less than two percent of school buildings to be in “good” condition and the majority to be in only “fair” condition. The City is forced to triage a growing list of building deficiencies while hundreds of schools fail to meet accessibility, environmental, and building code criteria.

SCHOOL FACILITIES AND CONSTRUCTION BUDGETS CUT SIGNIFICANTLY
The percentage of the City’s education budget dedicated to facilities decreased almost every year during the past nine years. This includes cuts of almost $50 million to budgets for the Custodial Engineers who are responsible for the maintenance and repair of the vast majority of public schools.

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NEW YORK CITY SPENDS SMALLER PERCENTAGE ON MAINTENANCE AND OPERATIONS THAN SIX OF THE SEVEN LARGEST SCHOOL DISTRICTS IN THE COUNTRY
A school district’s maintenance and operations (“M&O”) budget includes allocations for custodial and maintenance payroll, energy and utilities, as well as equipment and supplies. New York City’s M&O budgeted spending, as a percentage of its total education spending in fiscal year 2013, was six percent – the second lowest of any of the nation’s seven largest school districts, next to Los Angeles.

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MEET NEW YORK CITY’S WORST SCHOOL BUILDINGS

Many of the schools with worst BCAS and SchoolStat scores also have dozens of building code violations and most still have PCB-contaminated light fixtures – a stark reality for hundreds of schoolchildren across New York City who lack access to quality school facilities.

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THE CITY CAN INVEST IN CHILDREN’S FUTURES — FULLY AND EQUALLY

The City must invest in public school facilities to protect student safety and improve educational outcomes:

  • Seek new revenue streams and prioritize school facilities funding. Close tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest New Yorkers and examine additional revenue options, including charging a fair and appropriate rent from charter schools that are co-located with traditional public schools.
  • Remove toxic PCBs from schools immediately. They can cause cancer and hinder neurological development, potentially setting back future economic opportunity for thousands of children across the City.
  • Green school buildings and train staff to operate and maintain buildings more efficiently. The City can achieve much-needed energy savings, while creating a safer and healthier learning environment for our children.
  • Provide all staff with adequate resources.  While the cost of living continues to rise, school workers’ wage levels have been frozen for six years. Workers affected by budget cuts are working harder than ever, even during times of crisis. During Hurricane Sandy, many school maintenance workers spent the night in their schools and others worked longer shifts, assisting displaced families seeking shelter and repairing storm damage.
  • To ensure excellence in its schools, New York City must exercise fairness in its treatment of the men and women who work in the schools. Earning the wages and benefits they deserve, workers can focus all of their energies on creating and maintaining healthy, safe schools where our children can thrive and learn.

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