Uptick in Kindergarten Applications Blamed on Fake Addresses
UPPER WEST SIDE — Families of kindergarten applicants at a high-achieving Lincoln Square school may have lied about their addresses using the city's new online application process, after similar speculation surfaced at another popular school, parents and education leaders claimed.
The West 70th Street elementary school P.S. 199 has 98 students on its waitlist this year compared to 39 last year — a more than 150 percent increase — making it the school with the second highest wait list in the city, according to the Department of Education.
Local leaders are blaming the long list on this year's new Kindergarten Connect program, which allowed parents to apply to up to 20 schools online rather than in person, where they would have been required to provide proof of address.
"[Kindergarten Connect] may even have encouraged some [parents] to use fraudulent addresses to apply to certain schools," said Community Education Council President Joe Fiordaliso, noting that the backlog of applications could lead to delays in families finding out about their school choices.
"The longer delay means that, for example, number 80 on P.S. 199's waitlist is extremely uneasy and will begin to look at other options including private school, charter school or moving out of the city altogether," Fiordaliso added.
The principal at the popular P.S. 321 in Park Slope made similar accusations after her school saw an increase of 80 applications this year.
P.S. 199's principal did not return a request for comment.
The DOE, which has credited the program with dropping waitlists by half across the city, ultimately requires proof of address for admission.
But some worried that the burden placed on school employees sifting through the applications, as well as the anxiety parents may experience being on the waitlist, could lead to problems.
Andrew Shapiro, a strategy consultant whose family lives within the P.S. 199 zone, said his child is number 65 on P.S. 199's wait list.
He and other waitlisted parents are working to bring the DOE's attention to the issue because they aren't confident the addresses will be adequately verified by the school's parent coordinator, a DOE employee, who is facing a much larger list to review.
"As a result, families such as ours may not have the opportunity to send their children to their zoned school," he said.
Without having to present documentation in person, more parents may have gotten "creative," in their initial application on the chance that they'd get in, Shapiro explained.
Under the new system, families don't have to prove their residency until after they've been accepted to the school. On May 23, when families register to a school to which they've been accepted, they then have to show documentation, giving those who allegedly lied a month to secure proof.
"We've all read about and heard the stories of families who claim residency for their children at what are actually the homes of relatives or friends," Shapiro said.
P.S. 199 was the only Manhattan school to garner the prestigious National Blue Ribbon School Award this fall, which some speculated may have also contributed to the uptick.
CEC 3 raised concerns over the new process last year, arguing that schools would not be prepared, Fiordaliso said.
"I do not have confidence that our parent coordinators are being given the tools and resources to properly verify addresses," he said.
P.S. 199 PTA President Eric Shuffler thought it was unfair that Kindergarten Connect "effectively seems to put the burden on the school in the verification of the address," he said at a Wednesday town hall hosted by City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal.
Rosenthal agreed that the new system was unfair to schools.
"There is no doubt that the K Connect kindergarten application system puts an onerous burden on schools both on the front end in terms of accommodating a large increase for information and tour requests and on the back end in terms of verifying addresses of online applicants," Rosenthal said in a statement.
She urged the DOE to provide schools with resources to handle the process of verifying applicants, but wants to leave it to the individual schools to determine what's appropriate in terms of additional help.
Sadye Campoamor, special assistant to Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina, explained at Wednesday's town hall that the new application process was already in motion and that DOE officials decided to move forward with it when the new administration took office.
She said the department would take stock of the problems that arose.
"Some of the surface appeal was this is going to be easy for you… we want to follow up with principals who’ve had to go paper by paper [through applications]," Campoamor said. "We don’t want to make more work for folks."
Meanwhile, waitlisted parents have testified to sleepless nights and anxiety-ridden days.
"These parents are not going to wait until the end of summer for the waitlist to work its way down to them," Fiordaliso said.
A Department of Education representative said that extensive proof of address is required by families. Parents need at least two of the following documents: an electric or gas bill; a lease, deed or mortgage; a property tax bill; a water bill; or payroll documentation.
Schools that suspect fraud can investigate it, the representative added.