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Murray Hill and Midtown East Parents Face Kindergarten Waitlists

By Mary Johnson | January 16, 2012 5:06pm
P.S. 116 mom Michelle Benyacar said that overcrowding is a pressing issue at the school.
P.S. 116 mom Michelle Benyacar said that overcrowding is a pressing issue at the school.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

MANHATTAN — Parents looking to enroll their kids in kindergarten in the Midtown East and Murray Hill area expect to once again come up against long waitlists next school year — despite the fact that one of the schools in the area is expanding.

Long-term overcrowding problems at P.S. 116 and a recent boost in enrollment at P.S. 40 could generate class sizes of up to 25 students, even as P.S. 59 expands kindergarten enrollment for 2012.

Applications are now open and parents have until March 2 to rank the NYC public schools they wish to send their children to, but experts are predicting a long and anxious road for parents who want their children to go to their local school.

Traditionally, kindergarten placements in the neighborhood quickly fill with students zoned for a particular school who already have a sibling attending that school, who are given top priority under the city's enrollment rules. That means families who apply to schools outside their zone, and, even, in some cases families who have applied to their zoned school can end up on a waiting list until school starts in September.

P.S. 116 is located on East 33rd Street between Second and Third avenues in Kips Bay.
P.S. 116 is located on East 33rd Street between Second and Third avenues in Kips Bay.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

P.S. 59, is scheduled to move out of its temporary home on East 63rd Street and into a new building on East 57th Street between Second and Third avenues, which it will share with the High School of Art and Design.

The move will mean increased space for the elementary school, so the kindergarten waitlists that have plagued new parents for the past several years may no longer be a problem.

“That should be good news for parents,” said Eric Goldberg, a member of the Community Education Council for District 2, which encompasses 32 elementary institutions and more than 20,000 students.

But P.S. 40 in Gramercy and P.S. 116 in Kips Bay are both likely to have waitlists, and packed classrooms of up to 25 students each, Goldberg  said.

Goldberg said that number of students is significantly higher than the Department of Education’s target goal of 20 kindergartners per class. It is also right at the teachers’ union cap of 25 students per kindergarten class.

“Basically, the DOE is going to be packing kids into kindergarten again this year,” he added. “It’s not an optimal educational environmental to have 25 kindergarten students in a class. It’s just really hard for a teacher to manage that many students of that age.”

In past years, waitlists have not been an issue at P.S. 40, located on East 20th Street between First and Second avenues. But the school was near capacity this year, Goldberg said, and its enrollment continues to grow, making waitlists likely for fall of 2012.

At P.S. 116, located a little farther north on East 33rd Street between Second and Third avenues, waitlists have been a common yearly occurrence as the school has struggled with overcrowding. Parents at the school, along with local elected officials and community boards, had been pushing for the DOE to start two kindergarten classes at P.S. 281, which is currently under construction on First Avenue and East 35th Street, before the school opens in 2013, to create another option for area kindergartners. But the DOE declined that request.

Instead, the DOE has capped enrollment at P.S. 116 to no more than six kindergarten classes of 25 students each.

“Now, with this enrollment cap put in place, there’ll likely be a waitlist this year and students that will be given alternate assignments,” said Goldberg, himself a P.S. 116 parent with a child in first grade.

Waitlists can be a source of extreme frustration for parents, Goldberg said, adding that “a deeply flawed” enrollment process is to blame.

“It creates a lot of anxiety for parents because the waitlists are longer than they are in reality,” he  added.

That's because decisions on gifted and talented placements in the neighborhood are not made until June, which means those students remain on waitlists until they get word that they’ve been accepted. And although private school deposits are due in the middle of February—well before the March 2 kindergarten application deadline—many candidates remain on public school waiting lists.

The enrollment process is not first come, first served, so there is no rush to apply for these District 2 schools before the March 2 deadline. As part of the application, parents must provide two proofs of residency, which could include utility bills, property tax bills or pay stubs.

And should parents find themselves on a kindergarten waitlist?

“My advice is to understand the process, be patient, and then advocate for changes to this process,” Goldberg said, “because once your student’s enrolled, parents tend to lose some of their desire to change this process because they’re no longer affected.”