By Julie Shapiro
CHELSEA — Schools Chancellor Joel Klein responded to concerns from local parents at an impassioned forum in Chelsea Wednesday night.
Overcrowding was the hottest topic, as parents from lower Manhattan to the Murray Hill said they were worried their students did not have enough space to learn.
Klein told the more than 100 parents gathered in P.S. 33’s auditorium that he understood the issue, but it would be difficult to resolve because of budget cuts and the scarcity of real estate in Manhattan.
"This is in a sense a good problem — it reflects that people want to come to these schools," Klein said. "We’re all trying to tackle this problem. Some of this is going to take zoning. Some of this is going to take creativity."
After several parents from P.S. 116 in Murray Hill raised concerns about large class sizes, Klein won his biggest cheer of the night when he promised to meet with them at their school.
But some parents were less satisfied with Klein’s other responses.
Alan Zausner, a Chelsea resident whose 12-year-old son attends special education classes, asked Klein why the special education application process changes every year.
"No one knows at the local level what’s going on," Zausner said.
Klein replied that he made changes to ensure students were going to schools closer to their homes.
"You should continue to fight for your kid," Klein told Zausner. "I admire that."
"We shouldn’t have to, sir," Zausner said.
In his opening remarks, Klein defended the performance of the city’s schools and told parents not to worry about the dip in test scores this year when the state tests got harder.
"I understand why people are concerned," Klein said. "[But] it doesn’t mean kids lost ground. It means the standards got higher."
Shino Tanikawa, a member of the District 2 Community Education Council, questioned the city’s emphasis on standardized testing.
"Our kids are a lot more than two days of filling in bubbles," she said.
Klein replied that he is always looking for better ways to measure accountability, and while testing does not provide a full picture, it is an important gauge.
Klein dodged the fractious debate of charter schools versus public schools, saying he did not have a preference.
"In the end, parents want choices," Klein said. "I am for great schools and I am for giving parents a choice."
While Klein painted a bright picture of the city’s schools, he also acknowledged the difficulties that lie ahead, especially as the city loses $850 million in stimulus funding next year. That will make it even harder to reduce class sizes, boost the graduation rate and build new schools, Klein said.
"That’s the challenge we will face: how to do more with less," he said.