UPPER WEST SIDE — A popular dual-language program that has drawn families to P.S. 87 for 25 years is facing dramatic cuts amid budget shortfalls.
The beloved Upper West Side elementary school had five Spanish-English dual-language classes this spring, one each in kindergarten through fourth grade, but in the fall the school plans to slash the program down to just a single class to save money, parents and administrators said.
"The program has been there 25 years and is part of the fabric of the community," said P.S. 87 parent Ted Merz, the father of a kindergartner at the school, who is among those advocating to save it.
In the face of budget cuts because of a shrinking enrollment, P.S. 87 Principal Monica Berry recently told parents that she had decided not to rehire two of the program's teachers for this fall, while two other teachers in the program decided to take leaves of absence and would not be replaced, said Rachel Laiserin, a parent at the school.
District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul confirmed that P.S. 87 is planning to have only one dual-language class in the fall.
"They do have a large school, but enrollment is down from last year, so that has impacted their budget," Altschul told a crowd of concerned parents at a Community Education Council meeting earlier this month.
P.S. 87 had 949 students this school year, a drop of about 15 students from the previous year and far fewer than the 1,004 students enrolled in the the 2009-'10 school year, according to DOE figures. The reason for the enrollment decline was not clear.
Only about five students at the school are required to have special classes for English-language learners, which makes the dual-language program "an enrichment program" to the DOE, Altschul said — a curriculum perk the city is not legally obligated to fund.
"What drives the funding is the [ELL] students," Altschul said. "And right now, [P.S.] 87 does not have the students that need a dual-language program."
Parents disagree, and they've started a petition directed to local lawmakers and the DOE aiming to save the program, which had gathered more than 643 signatures as of Monday morning.
"There are always more people applying to get into the dual-language class than the school can accommodate," Merz said. "When you call it 'enrichment' that sounds like it's expendable."
P.S. 87's dual-language program is one of the oldest in the city, parents said, adding that the cuts sting even more because the Department of Education just announced 29 new dual-language programs opening this fall at schools across the city.
But Altschul said parents who are lobbying for the program to be restored should temper their expectations, because it's likely that just one dual-language class, at most, could be added back to the school, due to budget constraints.
A DOE spokeswoman said the final decision had not yet been made.
"The department believes in and will continue to support the program. We are working with the school through their budgeting processes to ensure its sustainability," said Erin Hughes, a spokeswoman for the DOE.
Berry did not respond to request for comment.
P.S. 87 has a strong parent association, which raised $1.6 million in the 2010-2011 fiscal year to support programs including music classes and occupational therapy. But the funds cannot pay for classroom teachers, so the parents cannot save the dual-language program on their own, parent Camilla Calamandrei said.
At the CEC meeting, Altschul asked the increasingly agitated parents for patience.
"I applaud the parents for getting on it and moving on it," she said. "But give us some time."