From The Mayor's Desk ...
On Tuesday, the doors of our public schools opened for the new school year-and many of those schools arebrand-new. From Ozone Park in Queens to Bathgate in the Bronx, they include new schools with 3,600 new classroom seats-another big step forward in our ambitious, ongoing drive to modernize and expand our public school system.
The need for doing that couldn't be more urgent. Today, half of the public school buildings in the city are of World War II-vintage or older, and many of them must either be replaced or extensively repaired. Overcrowding forces some elementary schools to rely on mobile classrooms, while some high schools with big enrollments have to operate on split shifts. And hundreds of schools throughout the city require new gyms, labs, libraries, and other essential facilities.
To meet these needs, we're in the midst of an unprecedented $13.1 billion school construction program-the biggest education capital plan in the city's history. By 2009, our administration will have begun work on, or completed, 100,000 new classroom seats; two-thirds of them will be part of this capital program. Over the past four and a half years, we've already added 47,000 new seats to the school system. And work on some of our biggest school construction projects, including a new four-school campus in Mott Haven, and a long-needed major new high school in Sunset Park, is expected to begin later this year.
We're not just building more schools; we're also building better schools that create dynamic new learning environments, that employ the latest design standards and technologies, and that can be adapted to meet future needs. They're also being constructed faster, more efficiently, and more cost-effectively than ever, without any loss in quality. That's because of our reforms of the School Construction Authority. During our administration, we've worked with the industry to improve and streamline the school construction process-and our work is paying off. For example, a sparkling new campus opened on Tuesday. It's designed to accommodate 1,300 students in Bathgate, was completed on time and on budget. And that's great news for students and taxpayers alike.
This year, New Yorkers are also saving tax dollars by doing their back-to-school shopping in the five boroughs. That's thanks to the fact that both the city and state sales tax have been lifted on clothing and footwear priced under $110. We pushed hard to secure that tax relief for city residents - and now we're eager to share our good deals with our suburban neighbors. If you live in Westchester, Suffolk, Nassau, or Rockland counties, here's a tip: there are great back-to-school clothing bargains to be had at New York City stores-tax-free. Not only that, but through September 8, more than fifty retailers in our city-clothiers, booksellers, electronics stores, and others-are contributing a portion of their receipts to support the Fund for Public School's campaign to improve school libraries. It's called "Shop for Class," and it's one more way to help give all our students the modern schools that they need and deserve.