MANHATTAN — The number of schools with kindergarten waitlists dropped by nearly 25 percent this year — but the overall number of students stuck on those lists at their zoned schools remained nearly the same, according to Department of Education figures released Tuesday.
There were 1,239 students placed on waitlists at 51 schools they were zoned for compared to 1,242 students placed on waitlists for 63 schools last year, DOE figures show.
It's a significant drop from two years ago, when there were more than 2,300 students on waitlists at 100 schools, according to school officials, who attributed the decline to increased outreach to pre-K families, raising awareness about available kindergarten options.
But waitlists continue to be a problem in many neighborhoods with growing numbers of young families where many parents say the DOE isn't planning enough for the population booms.
District 20, which includes Sunset Park, Borough Park and Bay Ridge, had the most schools bursting at the seams, with seven schools waitlisting its zoned students.
Western Queens' District 24, which includes overcrowded schools in Corona, and Northwest Queens’ District 30, which includes oversubscribed schools in Woodside and Jackson Heights, each had five schools with waitlists. District 2, which spans from Battery Park City to Greenwich Village to the Upper East Side, had waitlists at four schools.
The highly-regarded Upper West Side's P.S. 199 had the city's longest waitlist, with 93 students, according to figures obtained by DNAinfo.
Some schools have tried to cope with the overflow of students by adding extra classes, but that can come back to bite them, parents say.
For example, when P.S. 199 found itself with 98 kids on its waitlist last year, it added another kindergarten section, causing a stir that the already over-capacity school was setting a "dangerous precedent."
This year, the Upper West Side's P.S. 87 and P.S. 9 announced the schools would add extra kindergarten classes for next September because of the number of zoned applicants, and parents at the schools worry it will only worsen the overcrowding there. (P.S. 87 still ended up with a waitlist of 25 kids.)
Parents at Brooklyn Heights' P.S. 8 were bracing for waitlists after the DOE decided to ax an entire kindergarten class, cutting the number of seats for 5-year-olds from 150 to 125, DNAinfo previously reported. The school ended up with 50 children on its waitlist.
According to some parents zoned for the school, the DOE offered them seats at a school they didn't even list on their application — Vinegar Hill's P.S. 307.
Though it's just under a mile away, parents said the commute wouldn't work.
"Just placing us in the closest school is not helpful," said Erica Desimone, who was frustrated that her son was waitlisted at P.S. 8 despite living two blocks away. "It's 0.9 miles away, but when you're a 5-year-old, it's pretty far."
Desimone criticized the DOE for not planning well enough for the area's residential growth.
"For every small building that goes down, a tall building goes up," she said. "And that's the bigger issue."
The DOE confirmed that 10 percent of all of the city's kindergarten applicants — or more than 8,800 children — were not offered any choices listed on their applications.
The vast majority of those children were given offers to their zoned schools — even though they hadn't listed those schools on their applications.
The remaining 1,391 of these students were either shut out of their zoned school for lack of space or live in a “choice district” and did not have a zoned school, so they received offers elsewhere.
Officials said they were able to place more than 72 percent of students — about 49,000 of incoming kindergartners — in their top choice school.
"We’ve seen an increase in the number of students who received one of their first choices and a decreased number of schools with waitlists," Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. "This is a great step in the right direction and we’ll continue working to best serve all families.”
Families who plan to accept these offers must contact their school directly for an appointment to pre-register by May 6.
Parents can pre-register their child at their offered school and still have a chance of receiving an offer later at a school where they are waitlisted, officials said.
Many families ultimately get off of the waitlist as families move out of the city or children give up their spots for private schools, charter schools and gifted-and-talented programs, the DOE said.
All children who turn 5 years old in 2015 are guaranteed placement for kindergarten.
Families who haven't applied to kindergarten yet should visit schools in person to apply.