Now that Mayor Bill de Blasio has the state funds he needs to move forward on prekindergarten, his staunchest Albany allies are hoping he’ll pay attention to one of their priorities: removing classroom trailers.
At an appearance alongside the mayor on Thursday, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver gently urged de Blasio to set aside extra money to rid the city school system of 350 portable classroom units, which are installed next to overcrowded school buildings. Removal of the trailers, which serve over 7,000 students, has been a top request from Assembly Democrats for years.
“You know, children should not learn math by counting the raindrops that are leaking through the roof,” Silver said, referring to the poor condition of some of the trailers. “They deserve a real environment, and hopefully this mayor’s vision – and with the resources that we gave him in this budget and budgets to come – will be able to provide that environment that goes with starting at pre-K,” Silver added.
The press conference, focused on the city’s pre-K expansion, comes just days after Silver helped deliver $300 million in pre-K funds to de Blasio in the state budget, which will allow the city to more than double its number of full-day pre-K seats in the next five months.
At the event, de Blasio praised Silver’s record of leadership in the Assembly, which included the creation of a state-funded universal pre-K program in 1998.
“If he had not persisted, if he had not made it his life’s work to stand up for universal pre-K, we would not be standing here today announcing the results of this victory,” de Blasio said.
Speaking at the event, Silver tried to leverage that goodwill by reminding reporters — and de Blasio — that he would like to see trailer removal prioritized in the mayor’s final spending plan, which is due to the City Council later this month.
At Silver’s urging, the legislature recently approved a $2 billion Smart Schools Act referendum that could send nearly $800 million to the city. The money is intended to help schools upgrade their technological infrastructure, but districts can also use that money to increase pre-K capacity and to remove trailers.
De Blasio’s five-year capital budget proposal allotted $405 million toward removing classroom trailers, but lawmakers have questioned the city’s long-term commitment to that plan—especially with so much attention on expanding pre-K capacity. Skepticism surfaced again last month at a City Council hearing when an education official suggested that trailers in good shape could still be used to help expand the city’s pre-K capacity.
De Blasio said that he’s heard often from the speaker about trailers during their state budget negotiations and said that he’d continue to make it a priority in his capital spending plan.
“I don’t want kids in trailers,” de Blasio said. “I want to move aggressively to get them out of trailers. We know that will take some time, but we’re committed to it. We’re also committed to putting in new facilities in the most overcrowded areas.”
The press conference was held at P.S. 1, one of the 140 schools that is able to expand its pre-K offerings under de Blasio’s plan. There, de Blasio announced a $300,000 advertising campaign designed to remind parents to apply for newly-available public school pre-K seats by the April 23 deadline. The publicly-funded campaign, called Opportunity Starts Now, will send out robocalls as well as place ads in subway cars, on buses and in taxicabs. De Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, will also be featured in messages to 3-1-1 calls.
“Her voice convinced me long ago – I think it will convince parents to go immediately and apply,” de Blasio said.