P.S. 290's Post-Rezoning Waitlist Angers Parents

By Amy Zimmer on March 27, 2012 9:19am 

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Children raise their hands.
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MANHATTAN — A group of Upper East Side parents with their hearts set on sending their kindergartners to the prestigious P.S. 290 were angered to learn their kids were on a waitlist of 42 students — even after the Department of Education shrunk the school's area to deal with this very problem.

P.S. 290, which has become notorious for its waitlist in recent years, saw its zone trimmed during the previous school year, but still had a waitlist of 64 students as of June, with 164 zoned students vying for 100 seats. The DOE then trimmed roughly eight blocks from the zone for the school, at 311 E. 82nd St. between First and Second avenues, this school year in an effort to shrink its waitlist further.

"We were confident based on this rezoning, that we didn't need a backup plan," said a father, who received a letter on Friday informing him that his son was waitlisted. "We're outraged. We thought this would be taken care of."

The dad, who asked that his name be withheld as not to jeopardize his son's chances of getting off the list, said his family moved to the area in the summer specifically because it was in P.S. 290's zone. He said that another family with a child on the waitlist had moved to the area in February for the same reason.

"It's very anxiety-inducing," said the father, who knew eight other upset families with kids on the waitlist.

When the DOE proposed this year's rezoning for P.S. 290 — along with other schools to create a new zone for the start-up P.S. 527 — the school's principal Sharon Hill and several parents blasted the plans, fearing it would lead to under-enrollment.

The DOE restored one block to P.S. 290's zone before passing its proposal in December. Cut blocks were East 86th to 88th streets between Lexington and Park avenues, East 85th and 87th streets between Second and Third avenues and East 84th to 86th streets between York and Second avenues.

P.S. 290 parents claimed the waitlist numbers were inflated by families who registered at the school as a backup or "safety school," since private school acceptance and gifted-and-talented test results are not known at the time of registration. Hill had said the waitlist was exhausted by the first week of school this year.

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School Zoning Map 4
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Billy Figueroa

Hill had said she worried that P.S. 290 would have too few students with the shrunken zone, which would hurt the school's budget, since school funding is allocated based on the number of students. On top of budget cuts from this year, the school fears that treasured programs, such as those for the arts, will suffer.

The DOE's Elizabeth Rose said the school would not be under-enrolled, telling parents at a meeting last year she anticipated 115 zoned students applying for P.S. 290 seats, plus siblings in the zoned-out areas who would be grandfathered in.

At another meeting, Rose presented data showing that the Upper East Side will likely need more elementary school seats in the coming years. There were 724 kindergartners enrolled in neighborhood schools in 2011. That number is expected to grow to nearly 850 in the next five years, and perhaps as soon as 2014, she said.

A DOE spokesman would not confirm the numbers on P.S. 290's waitlist, saying the numbers were in a state of flux "hourly at this point" and would continue to be in transition as gifted and talented offers come at the end of May and other families choose to leave the public school system or decline offers.

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