City Will Fix Downtown School 'Crunch' by Sending Kids to Chinatown

By Julie Shapiro on June 11, 2012 1:41pm 

P.S. 276 Principal Terri Ruyter is worried that her school is becoming overcrowded.
P.S. 276 Principal Terri Ruyter is worried that her school is becoming overcrowded.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

LOWER MANHATTAN — School officials plan to bus dozens of Downtown students to P.S. 1 on Henry Street to ease Lower Manhattan's overcrowding problem — a solution that was immediately criticized by parents and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Department of Education officials acknowledged Friday during a heated meeting that Downtown schools face a "crunch" over the next several years, but said they have no plans to build new schools in the neighborhood to accommodate those extra children.

Instead, starting in the fall of 2013, the DOE plans to send dozens of Downtown kids to P.S. 1, which has 12 available classrooms and could host a new dual-language program, said Drew Patterson, the DOE's director of south Manhattan planning.

"We don't see the need for additional seats Downtown, given the capacity we have at P.S. 1," Patterson told angry parents and principals at the Friday afternoon meeting, which was hosted by Silver.

Silver and others slammed the proposal, saying P.S. 1, which is about a mile from TriBeCa's popular P.S. 234, is too far outside the neighborhood.

"That's not an option," Silver said. "P.S. 1 is not an acceptable alternative for this community."

However, Silver, the DOE and Downtown parents and principals do agree that something must be done — and soon — because several of Lower Manhattan's schools are quickly running out of space as they take in more children each year than they can hold in the long run.

P.S. 276, which just opened in a brand-new building in southern Battery Park City in 2010, has been forced to squeeze in extra kindergartners for the past three years to accommodate children who otherwise would have been waitlisted.

The school was only designed to have three classes per grade, but this fall it will have five kindergartens, four first-grade classes and four second-grade classes, Principal Terri Ruyter said.

By the fall of 2013, Ruyter said she does not see how she will have room to admit even a single incoming kindergarten class unless she shuts down the school's pre-K program and closes the music, art and science rooms.

"We're running out of classrooms," Ruyter told the DOE officials Friday. "It's a serious problem."

Silver, the powerful Democratic leader who represents Downtown Manhattan, warned that the city's decision to cram kindergartners into schools that can't fit them is "ultimately going to come back to bite us" as those large classes age up.

"You've cannibalized the future in order to alleviate the present," Silver said.

Parents want the DOE to build two new elementary schools in Lower Manhattan in addition to the Peck Slip School, which will start with just kindergarten classes in temporary space in Tweed Courthouse this fall.

They also want the city to build a stand-alone pre-K center for Downtown, which would open up space for elementary kids in the neighborhood's existing schools.

But Elizabeth Rose, who works in the DOE's Office of Public Affairs, said there is no money to build new school seats in Lower Manhattan, beyond the 712 that are already planned at Peck Slip.

"There are so many communities that need more seats," Rose said. "We have identified 15,000 seats [across the city] that we don't have the funds to build.…While I know it is nobody's preference…we do have seats nearby [at P.S. 1]."

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