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Parents and Politicians Fight to Save East Harlem Tech School

By Jeff Mays | June 28, 2013 2:42pm
 Politicians, students and teachers are calling for the Department of Education to drop plans to redevelop the School of Cooperative Technical Education at 96th Street between First Avenue and Second Avenue because no one affected by the proposal was consulted.
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HARLEM — Politicians, students and teachers are calling for the Department of Education to drop plans to redevelop the School of Cooperative Technical Education on 96th Street between First and Second avenues because they say no one affected by the proposal was consulted.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, along with upset students and teachers, said Friday that the school, which has 2,000 students from across the city and teaches technical and trade skills to students age 16 to 20, is desperately needed.

"This is a school that has real job training," Stringer said at a press conference outside the school on Friday. "It's a school where you have 2,000 students trying to improve their lives."

The DOE was originally considering a plan to redevelop the school at 321 E. 96th St. along with P.S. 199 and P.S. 191 on the Upper West Side. The plan was to tear down the two Upper West Side schools and build high-rise residential developments with new schools to bring in revenue.

After protests, the DOE scrapped the Upper West Side plans and decided to focus on the School of Cooperative Technical Education. Opponents have criticized the DOE for revealing the plans through an ad in Crain's New York Business soliciting interest from developers, rather than going to the community with the proposal.

"Why are they coming out with these ideas when the administration will be changing in a few months? They should allow the new mayor to begin engaging with the community on this issue," Mark-Viverito said. "We need our public school infrastructure."

Rep. Charles Rangel, state Sen. Jose Serrano and Assemblyman Robert Rodriguez have also asked the DOE to reconsider the plan.

DOE officials said this was just the start of a long development process.

“This proposed development would provide additional state-of-the-art new seats at no taxpayer cost. We are in the very early stage of a public process, which will include input from the community," said DOE spokesman Devon Puglia.

DOE officials say they are beginning to brief public officials on their plan and that developers who expressed interest will have to go through another round of vetting. There is currently no timeline for the project.

But students and teachers say even the temporary loss of the school could be devastating. Stringer said the school has millions of dollars in special equipment that it uses to teach kids skills such as auto repair and welding. New windows were also recently installed as part of an $8 million capital improvement.

Students can also get their GED at the school, where special needs students are also trained.

"I blame the DOE for continuing to think you can plan for schools in isolation," Stringer said.

The school would likely be re-sited during the development process, but nothing has been decided.

The decision to scrap the plan on the Upper West Side and proceed with the one in East Harlem has opponents concerned about fairness.

"Why are they walking away from low-income communities?" asked Mark-Viverito who recently penned an op-ed in the Huffington Post criticizing Mayor Michael Bloomberg for other development proposals such as the plan to build market-rate housing at several New York City Housing Authority developments, including one in East Harlem.

"City development and planning needs to focus on the needs of the immediate community not the future community," she said.

Isaiah Labato, 19, who attends a program in Brooklyn associated with the school, just graduated.

"If it wasn't for co-op tech, I wouldn't be getting my diploma," Labato said. Now he has plans for the military, college or both.

"They don't need more housing here for rich people," he said of the site, which would overlook the East River. "Kids need training and jobs."

Louis Thevenot, a para-professional at the school for the last 15 years, said he has seen students blossom.

"Career and technical schools are charged with helping students become employed," Thevenot siad. "The DOE should be opening more career and technical schools instead of trying to close them."

DOE officials say the school is in no danger of being closed.

Irvin Queen, who teaches Cisco Networks at the school, said students can get jobs ranging from $47,000 to $60,000 per year with certification.

This year alone, five students received the certification necessary to repair and maintain computer networks, including a student who was thought to be disabled, he said.

One student is going to work for Cisco, another landed a job with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and another will begin a job as a help desk technician.

'We train people to go to work and if they want they can also go on to college," he said. "Imagine a 19-year-old or 20-year-old kid making $47,000 per year to start."