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Support Grows in Fight Against Overcrowded Schools in Kips Bay

By Mary Johnson | October 28, 2011 12:07pm
Parents and teachers from P.S. 116, located on East 33rd Street between Second and Third avenues, are fighting to stop overcrowding at their school.
Parents and teachers from P.S. 116, located on East 33rd Street between Second and Third avenues, are fighting to stop overcrowding at their school.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

KIPS BAY — A group of parents and teachers from P.S. 116 who are leading a charge to ease  overcrowding in their school can now count among their supporters the Coalition of East Side Elected Officials and the members of Community Board 5’s education committee.

The group’s plan, which also gained unanimous support from Community Board 6 two weeks ago, calls for the Department of Education to make early use of a new school planned for East 35th Street and First Avenue. Construction on the soon-to-be P.S. 281 isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2013.

The process is known as “incubation,” and it would entail starting two classes of kindergarten students at P.S. 281 prior to its official opening. The plan is designed to ease overcrowding at P.S. 116 and to start building the new school's community.

Before the incubation can begin, the Department of Education would need to rezone the district to include the new school. It would also need to identify a site to house the incubated students.

Advocates in favor of the plan say it has been used effectively in other parts of the city, and the vocal contingent of parents and teachers is pushing hard for incubation to help Kips Bay, too.

Two weeks ago, Community Board 6 voted unanimously in support of a resolution urging the DOE to incubate two classes of kindergartners and to change the zoning to include the new P.S. 281 school.

Last week, the Coalition of East Side Elected Officials — a group that includes City Councilmembers Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez, Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Liz Krueger, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assembly Members Richard Gottfried and Brian Kavanagh— wrote a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, urging him to move the incubation process forward.

“P.S. 116 has been beset by capacity challenges for a number of years now, resulting in frequent kindergarten wait lists, the loss of gifted and talented and pre-kindergarten programs, and class sizes above contractual limits,” the letter stated.

“We ask you to seek out appropriate space in the neighborhood for an incubation site and to inform us of what potential options exist.”

At a meeting of school District 2's Community Education Council on Wednesday night, Asa Somers, a P.S. 116 parent and a member of Community Board 5, announced that the board’s education, housing and human services committee had passed a unanimous resolution also supporting the incubation and rezoning.

“The DOE needs to sign off on this, and it can and will happen,” said Somers, addressing both the CEC and the crowd of parents. “To us, it’s really a no-brainer.”

Somers was among several disgruntled P.S. 116 parents who spoke in favor of incubation at the meeting, some of whom came to tears at the prospect of one more year of overcrowded classes.

Sarah Browne, the mother of four children at P.S. 116, said that she and other parents did not want to sit back and watch while their children suffered through 10:30 a.m. lunch periods and classrooms bursting with students.

“This is why we can’t wait,” she said, “because we’re already losing a generation of children in this school.”

At the meeting, Elizabeth Rose, the director of Manhattan planning for the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Management, did not mention P.S. 116 or the possibility of incubation.

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We’ve heard nothing,” said Beth Parise, a P.S. 116 parent and a member of Community Board 6, in an interview. “They can ignore us, but to ignore the coalition of elected officials is unheard of.”

Parise said that there is still time to rezone for the new school before the start of kindergarten registration in March of next year.

“We really feel we’re in a good position to get this done,” Parise said. “But we can’t force the DOE’s hand.”