Councilman Fernando Cabrera (right) and University Heights Secondary School students held a press conference on Monday (Photo: R. Thomas)
By REBECCA THOMAS
Councilman Fernando Cabrera had harsh words on Monday for the Department of Education, which continues to be unreceptive to his proposal to keep University Heights Secondary School in his district.
"The DOE has been duplicitous in their dealings with my office and our constituency,” said Cabrera in a statement released that morning. “They never intended to prevent the move of University Heights and falsely gave the impression that they were willing to negotiate with CUNY and the community in order to provide the best for the kids. It is time they be held accountable.”
The school is located on the Bronx Community College campus in University Heights, but will have to leave because BCC - a CUNY college - needs the space in time for the new school year.
On Monday afternoon, the councilman and 13 students from the school gathered at the corner of 179th Street and Jerome Avenue for a press conference. They stood outside a newly constructed four-story building that Cabrera described as “ideal” for the school but which the DOE has rejected in favor of the South Bronx High School campus in Morrisania.
Cabrera says he suggested the 179th Street site in January after the DOE had said that the lack of suitable buildings was the obstacle to keeping the school in the local area. The building is a five-minute walk from University Heights Secondary School's current site, but Cabrera's proposal was greeted with inaction.
“They asked me to find a building. I found a building, but now nothing!” he said at the press conference. “Don’t ask me to do something if you know at the end that there is no hope!”
Frank DeLeonardis, the owner of the 179th Street building, is willing to outfit it for the school and include this price in the monthly lease, so that it would not be a large upfront cost for the DOE, according to Cabera's office. Retrofitting the building would take until the middle of next academic year. The school would have to remain on BCC's campus until then - something the college has been willing to consider but which the DOE has not, Cabrera said.
Almost 80 percent of students at University Heights are from the community and walk to school. Many feel the building on 179th Street is a better option than moving the school to Morrisania, which is almost an hour away by public transport. They shared the councilman’s frustration with how the DOE has handled the move. “The students feel the DOE has not listened to anything we have had to say,” said Maria Ruiz, a student.
Cabrera scheduled Monday's press conference following discussions last week with the DOE, during which it became clear that the Department wasn't interested in revisiting the move, his office said. The city made its final decision almost a month ago. At the time, the DOE said it would look at alternatives if they came up.
Cabrera said he intends to keep putting pressure on the Department. “We are going to continue to negotiate... and let them know that now is the time to step in," he said. "We are running out of time to solve this.”
The DOE did not return calls seeking comment.
Cabrera and University Heights Secondary School students would prefer the school move to this building on 179th Street (File photo)