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Upper East Side School Rezoning Approved, But Waitlists Will Likely Persist

By Amy Zimmer | December 23, 2010 10:41am
The newly approved boundaries are the blocks of color.
The newly approved boundaries are the blocks of color.
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courtesy of DOE

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

UPPER EAST SIDE - The lines on the Upper East Side have been redrawn: After the Department of Education presented its fourth iteration of new boundaries for the area’s elementary school zones, the Community Education Council overwhelmingly voted Wednesday night to support the changes.

Nine CEC members voted yes and one abstained.

But the newly-drawn boundaries, which will take affect in spring 2011, won’t solve the overcrowding and waitlists that have dogged some of the area’s schools, CEC members warned.

“It is virtually impossible to divide up the zone and say we can guarantee there won’t be waiting lists,” said CEC member Eric Greenleaf, who helped crunch birth data projections. “Zoning doesn’t create seats. We can’t guarantee there won’t be wait lists or that every child can go to their zoned school.”

The incoming kindergarten class in the Upper East Side increased 34 percent from 2006 to 2010, from 637 to 851 students, Greenleaf said. If the next class grows by another 8 percent, the schools could face problems since total capacity is only 900 to 950 seats, he said.

District 2 has seen this problem before.

"We rezoned Lower Manhattan last year," District 2 board member Shino Tanikawa said. "And one school still had a waitlist of 100 students."

While several families praised the DOE for putting their homes back into the zones for much-acclaimed P.S. 6 or P.S. 290, which they believed they were buying into when they moved to the area, a few families complained about having been pushed into new zones.

To ease the overcrowding, the DOE created P.S. 151 last year and P.S. 267 this year — both of which have already received high praise — but it seemed that some families were still leery of new schools.

Parents at P.S. 267, who have seen their school struggle this year to attract and keep students — it was promised an incoming kindergarten of 75 students, but only got 45 — had urged the CEC to increase the size of its zone to guarantee larger enrollment. Since funding is tied to enrollment, the school is worried it may have to give money back.

Though the CEC did not increase the size of P.S.267's  zone, they did urge the DOE to ensure that new schools receive adequate funding in their early years that’s not tied to enrollment.

Also, after a lengthy discussion, the CEC decided to give some leeway to amend the rezoning depending on what happens with P.S. 151, which has to find a new home when its lease is up after next year at its temporary quarters at Our Lady of Good Counsel at 323 E. 91st St.

P.S. 151 is hoping to move to 421 E. 88th St., now housing the Richard R. Green High School. The DOE is considering relocating the open-admissions high school to Lower Manhattan’s 26 Broadway, but the popular and selective Millennium High School is also eyeing that space.

"P.S. 151 needs a permanent location," its PTA co-president Caroline Hall told members. "Millennium has a want. They don’t have a need. Richard R. Green and P.S. 151 have a need."

As these new schools find their footing, CEC members said even more new schools will be needed.

More families are choosing to stay in the city rather than head to the suburbs — and more of them are choosing public schools, Greenleaf said. Only 22 percent of Upper East Side kindergarteners (who had lived in the area five years before) ended up going to public school in 2006; by 2010 that figure jumped to 30 percent, Greenleaf said.

He projected that the area will need 800 more seats by 2014, and he urged the parents to fight for two more schools.

“This really is the most important issue facing the Upper East Side,” he said.