Last Wednesday, Adams and PBP unveiled the results of a participatory budgeting voting for projects at the Brooklyn Community Arts & Media High School in Clinton Hill and the Tilden Educational Campus in East Flatbush.
Though the participatory budgeting process was cancelled at the City Council level due to COVID-19, Adams and the nonprofit organization reached out to the two Brooklyn schools to conduct virtual participatory budgeting voting in April.
Students, parents and school staff voted on how to best spend $500,000 in funding from the borough president’s office.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for grassroots, democratic involvement in our city more than ever before,” Adams said. “Our city has had to make difficult budgetary choices due to the economic recession brought about by this virus, but we can never balance our budget on the backs of our students.”
According to Adams’s office, students at both schools formed a steering committee to begin the participatory budgeting process. They brainstormed ideas and crowdsourced potential projects.
With the help of the School Construction Authority (SCA) and school principals, the steering committees then winnowed down their ideas into proposals, which made it onto the ballot. The entire school voted on the slate of proposals.
At Brooklyn Community Arts & Media High School, the winners were a $150,000 project to upgrade the first-floor student bathroom and a $64,000 project to install eight filtered water fountains and bottle-filling stations.
Upgrades to the bathrooms include adding new stalls, toilets, sanitary napkin disposals, sinks, soap dispensers and more. The project will also improve wheelchair accessibility.
In total, 347 students, 70 parents and 60 school staff members voted.
At the Tilden Educational Campus, 111 students, 25 parents and 90 school staff participated in the vote.
Marissa Olivieri, assistant principal for administration and safety, as well as the athletic director for the Tilden Educational Campus, said participatory budgeting allowed the three campus schools to work together as a “unified voice” to improve the building.
“The project was led by students who immersed themselves in the importance of using their thoughts and voice to spend these funds,” she said. “This process empowered our students to make changes for the benefit of our entire community.”
Adams is the only elected official outside of the City Council to conduct participatory budgeting. Last year, the John Jay Campus in Park Slope and the Gotham Professional Arts Academy in Crown Heights took part in the process.
The school improvement projects come after the mayor announced that in-person instruction will begin this fall under a “blended-learning model,” where students will come to school two or three days a week.
Elizabeth Crews, director of Democracy Beyond Elections for the Participatory Budgeting Project, called it an amazing privilege to work with students.
“They came together across school boundaries to brainstorm creative ideas, develop proposals, and when shelter-in-place orders altered their school year, they even transitioned to online voting,” she said. “This process is an exciting model for what is possible when we include students in the decision-making process.”