The mayor spoke at a two-hour meeting before parents, teachers and students tackling a range of questions from high-stakes testing to bringing Halal food into schools at PS 69 on 37th Avenue, a school in one of the most overcrowded districts in the city.
"This is one of the epicenters of overcrowding and we have to do a lot to fix it," the mayor acknowledged after a question on building more high schools.
The mayor was joined by Chancellor Carmen Farina and Councilman Danny Dromm, who hosted the event and is also the chair of the City Council's education committee. This was de Blasio's second public town hall since he took office.
The city is investing $4 billion over the next five years to create more seats, including 1,500 for District 30 and 3,400 for District 24, the mayor said.
Later, though, he admitted that the money still won't do much to fix the problem.
"This is not an easy subject," he said. "Four billion and it's not enough. I don’t have more, there may be a day when I can find more, but right now I don’t have more than $4 billion to put into that."
District 30 Community Education Council president and parent Jeff Guyton asked if the mayor could make it easier for developers to build schools inside new residential buildings, like in Long Island City.
"As we build a new city along the East River we’re going to need schools," he said.
While he couldn't promise new schools, the mayor said he's trying to address what happens in the classroom "in a different way to achieve the same effect."
When parents say they want a smaller class size, they're asking for more attention for their children and a safer environment, he said.
"We have clearly a physical space challenge," he said. "Another solution is do more with the space we have and give more support."
Amanda Bender, a science teacher at a school in Corona and a parent with kids at schools in Jackson Heights, asked about high-stakes testing. The focus on it cuts into the arts and physical education, she said.
"My kindergartner has no free play because the administration says there’s no time for that," she said.
De Blasio and Farina said changes are being made, although the chancellor defended the kindergarten curriculum.
"Kindergarten is play," she said. "Play is work."
De Blasio told the packed auditorium — and a spillover classroom nearby — that he appreciated "the passion" of the audience and stayed late until every question was answered.
"You’re here because you want to learn more you want to ask tough questions," he said.