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DOE Rejects Plan to Ease Overcrowding at P.S. 116 For Second Time

By Mary Johnson | December 21, 2011 8:58pm
The Department of Education has rejected a plan that would help ease overcrowding at P.S. 116 in Kips Bay.
The Department of Education has rejected a plan that would help ease overcrowding at P.S. 116 in Kips Bay.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

KIPS BAY — For the second and likely final time, the Department of Education has rejected a proposal championed by parents and local elected officials that promised to ease overcrowding at a Kips Bay elementary school.

The DOE had been asked to reconsider its rejection last month of a plan that would start two kindergarten classes for the soon-to-be completed P.S. 281 to incorporate an overflow of students that are currently flooding nearby P.S. 116.

But in a letter sent to P.S. 116 Principal Jane Hsu on Monday, DOE’s Deputy Chancellors Marc Sternberg and Kathleen Grimm said the kindergarten plan “is not the best solution to address P.S. 116’s concerns when we consider all of the students and families this approach would effect.”

Instead, the DOE plans to limit the number of incoming kindergartners at P.S. 116 to six sections with a maximum of 25 students in each beginning in fall 2012.

“Should this result in a waitlist at P.S. 116,” the letter added, “we will identify overflow sites to accommodate all students.”

Parents and teachers at P.S. 116, on East 33rd Street between Second and Third avenues, who have been fighting wholeheartedly for incubation, took the news as a shock.

“They’re saying this is a good offer,” said Beth Parise, a P.S. 116 parent. “But it’s really not offering us anything. It’s actually exacerbating the problem.”

Parise said that limiting the school to six kindergarten sections would still add extra children to the school. She added that she and the other parents will continue to fight for controlled class sizes for their children.

Parents say they have been struggling with a surging student population for years and are currently operating at 120 percent capacity. They added that the process of housing students at a temporary site — known as incubation — has been used across the city to ease overcrowding and to jumpstart school communities even before a new school actually exists.

The future P.S. 281, which is currently being built at East 35th Street and First Avenue, is scheduled to open in time for the 2013-2014 school year.

Parents and teachers at P.S. 116 wanted the DOE to create two new kindergarten classes for P.S. 281 at an interim site. Parents hoped that would mean less students applying to the existing P.S. 116 kindergarten program.

Parents had gotten their hopes up for a comeback, after Sternberg told parents at a meeting last month that the kindergarten plan had "merit."

"We want to continue the conversation," Sternberg said at the District 2 Community Education Council town hall meeting in November. However, he cautioned that while "we hope to find a solution that's good for everybody, we may not."

In an acerbic letter written in response to the latest DOE decision, P.S. 116 parents railed against what they see as the department’s failure to act. 

“Every day the media cites the Department of Education for its poor decisions,” the letter stated. “Nevertheless, it somehow did not occur to us, the P.S. 116 community, that the DOE would completely and utterly ignore, disregard, and outright dismiss the viable solutions handed to it to alleviate a school imploding with children, and in effect, do nothing.”  

In lieu of incubation, P.S. 116 will now ask the DOE to limit its fall 2012 enrollment even more, to five classes of 25 kindergartners, instead of six.

If that isn’t an option, P.S. 116 wants the DOE to offer more support services to the school, such as hiring more aids or staff members to help manage the flow of students, advocates said.