Schools win big in north Brooklyn participatory budgeting
by Benjamin Fang
Apr 26, 2017 | 2115 views | 0 0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Councilman Stephen Levin announced the winners of this year’s participatory budgeting for District 33 on Monday night at Enid’s in Greenpoint.

Four of the six projects that will receive funding are school-related. The other winners include bus countdown clocks and a $500,000 renovation of Toddler Playground at Independence Towers in Williamsburg.

According to Levin, 3,769 residents voted in this year’s process, including 2,600 online votes. The vote total is the highest since Levin began participatory budgeting for his north Brooklyn constituents.

“Definitely by far the most successful year we’ve had in terms of the numbers and participation,” he said. “The advent of online voting has really made a difference. People have been empowered to participate and take more meaningful engagement.”

PS 31 in Greenpoint won a $218,000 science, technology, engineering, architecture and mathematics (STEAM) lab, while PS 110 will receive new electrical for air conditioning, a $175,000 project.

MS 8 in Downtown Brooklyn will get new lockers for 13 classrooms, which will cost $115,000. The final winners are two special needs schools, PS 231 and PS 369, which will receive technology upgrades.

The total funding amount came out to $1.58 million.

“We’ve done our best to keep it as diverse geographically as possible,” Levin said, “making sure there are projects that get on the ballot from each neighborhood.”

The councilman thanked the volunteers and voters who gathered at Enid’s for the announcement. He said since the presidential election in November, he has thought about how to restore faith in government.

“With the federal government, it’s depressing right now,” he said. “The antidote for that is to engage locally, to make things happen locally. You’ve all done that.”

Felicia Boone, a teacher at PS 369 in Downtown Brooklyn, said students at her school need new laptops and smart boards to help with their learning.

“I feel that with students with special needs, they need the hands-on activities. We feel that’s the best way for our students to benefit from learning,” she said. “We don’t have anything too much that’s upgraded for them to be 21st century learners.”

She got involved in the process when her principal, Rudolph Giuliani, introduced her to Benjamin Solotaire, the participatory budgeting director at Levin’s office.

“It was fun, I networked with a lot of people and I learned lot about funding for the councilman,” Boone said. “It was a really good experience for me.”

To decide on the project at her school, Boone said she set up a student council, which allowed students and staff to vote on what they needed.

During election week, students and staff also passed out flyers. They asked everyone in the school community who lived within District 33 to vote. Her efforts eventually paid off with PS 369’s victory in the polls.

As council members across the city finish another year of participatory budgeting, with the process to start anew in the fall, Levin said one thing he would like to see changed is to allow high school students who go to school in the district to vote.

Most high school school students don’t live in the neighborhoods where they go to school, he said.

“Elementary schools are a bit of a different dynamic because everybody goes to the local elementary school in their neighborhood,” Levin said. “For high school students, they have a greater challenge.”

Levin said he will have more engagement next year as well. He noted that he was out on paternity leave for more than a month after welcoming a new member to his family. Solotaire conducted much of the outreach during that time.

“Ben has been fantastic,” Levin said. “I would love to be able to, on my end, do more engagement personally to make sure people are aware of what the process is and how to get involved.”
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