the Groundwork for Governors Island
public rejoiced when President Bush unveiled his decision to hand
over Governors Island to New York City for education purposes.
In a recent press conference, Bush announced that the new land
would “enhance the quality of education for the people of New
York,” calling it a “worthwhile and noble cause.”
Early reports marked Governor’s Island as the site of a new CUNY
campus. Shifting CUNY departments to the new location would make
room for New York City high schools. This would add to the dozen
high schools currently on CUNY property. At a White House briefing,
Mayor Bloomberg noted that the move “will free up space so that
we can solve some of our space problems throughout the public
school system, where we have just too-big class sizes for the
A month after the unveiling, details remain as cloudy as the water
that surrounds the island, a former coast guard station located
five miles off the southern tip of Manhattan. At 170 acres, the
island is roughly one-fifth the size of Central Park.
The fate of Governors Island rests on CUNY’s forthcoming academic
plan. According to CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, “the planning
process is going on now at a very furious pace” to ensure that
whatever moves take place will do so in a short time.
At a recent Board of Trustees meeting, the Chancellor outlined
the need to establish a steering committee to assess the island’s
existing resources and to think about generating revenue. Maintenance
fees for the island have been estimated as high as $20 million
dollars; a cost that CUNY can ill afford.
The chancellor would not say if the island would house a new campus
for CUNY Law School and/or departments from Lehman College in
the Bronx, or York College in Queens. Such specific details for
the move, he explained, have not been brought up yet. In terms
of selecting which campuses will be relocated, CUNY is still in
a very early planning stage. Once that stage begins, explained
Chancellor Goldstein “everything will be put on the table”.
While the academic plan is still under construction, it will almost
surely include setting up a teacher training facility. The chancellor
referred to this as an ‘anchor tenet’ stemming from President
Bush’s wish to use the island to improve schooling in the city.
While CUNY clearly benefits from the acquisition, New York high
schools stand to gain as well.
This could be the break New York City public schools sorely need.
High schools citywide are bursting at the seams due to increased
enrollment and a lack of new buildings. Two years ago a report
issued by the Board of Education found city high schools operating
at 112 percent capacity on average. Some ran at double their capacity.
By 2004, the report predicted, overcrowding will worsen.
High schools in Queens and the Bronx experience the greatest overcrowding.
Within two years, their capacity rates are expected to rise to
122 percent and 131 percent , respectively. Shuffling CUNY campuses
from congested boroughs will allocate vital space for the city’s
more than 300,000 high school students. Whether or not these boroughs
will benefit from the move, however, is still up in the air.
At present, the Board of Education must wait for CUNY to unveil
its academic plan to find out how public schools will benefit
from the anticipated shuffling. As it stands, the Board of Education
is located downstream in the decision making process.
CUNY decides in terms of making changes and consolidating into
[Governors Island], we’ll find out what’s been allocated to us,”
said Board of Education spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. “Right now,
at this point, we don’t know. We’re not in the process.”
Only time will tell how much city high-school students stand to
gain. Until then, it is a matter of waiting for CUNY’s academic
plan to float to the surface.#
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