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School Overcrowding Crisis Looms on Upper West Side, Study Says

About 46 families were waitlisted for kindergarten seats at P.S. 199 in 2012.
About 46 families were waitlisted for kindergarten seats at P.S. 199 in 2012.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

UPPER WEST SIDE — While popular schools like P.S. 87 and P.S. 199 have seen a small dropoff in the number of children waiting to be offered seats, an overcrowding crisis is looming in the neighborhood, a new study says.

P.S. 87, a sought-after school on West 78th Street that's a selling point for local realtors, struggled with a waitlist of more than 100 students a few years ago. But a new school, P.S. 452, was created to handle overflow last year. That has left P.S. 87 with a markedly shorter waitlist of around 30 children as of April 3, said parent association co-president Rachel Laiserin.

At P.S. 199 on West 70th Street, roughly 46 neighborhood families are waiting for seats, which is less than previous years, said parent association co-president Michelle Ciulla-Lipkin.

Despite those small improvements, the problem of overcrowded schools on the Upper West Side isn't going away — in fact it's about to reach a crisis point, according to a recent study by real estate investment services firm Eastern Consolidated that looked at how new construction will affect local schools in the coming years.

Almost 8,000 new housing units have been built between West 59th and 77th streets west of Central Park since 1998, and the area will see more than 10,000 new units, bringing with them about 1,600 new kids, by 2015, according to the study.

Enrollment at the four schools between West 59th and 78th streets shot up by 741 students between 2006 and 2011, and total enrollment on the Upper West Side is expected to exceed current capacity by 2015.

"There are just so many families staying here. Then you have the added construction. It’s compounding the overcrowding problem," said study author Barbara Denham, a parent from P.S. 166 on West 89th Street. "What’s frightening is that the numbers are pretty dramatic and yet the city’s response is pretty nonexistent."

A DOE spokesman disputed that claim.

"We keep a close watch on patterns in housing and population growth, and that's reflected in our plan to add more than 7,000 public school seats to these Manhattan neighborhoods over the next three years," said DOE spokesman Matthew Mittenthal.

The bulk of the seats will be in Midtown West and Lower Manhattan, the other neighborhoods the study analyzed along with the Upper West Side.

Plans are underway for a new school at Riverside Center, a five-tower residential development that will be built between West 59th Street and West 61st Street from West End Avenue to Riverside Boulevard.

But Denham argued the 488-seat school, scheduled to open in September 2015, won't provide much relief. Riverside Center will bring 2,500 new housing units to the neighborhood and another new development planned nearby by Glenwood Management will add 600 more units, she said.

That's on top of other new high-rise apartment buildings such as the Laureate on West 76th and Broadway, the Harrison on West 76th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway, and the corner on West 72nd Street and Broadway.

"If everything is constructed according to plan, that school is going to open, and it will be overcrowded on the first day," Denham said.

Ciulla-Lipkin, the parent association co-president at P.S. 199, said this year's shorter waitlist could be a sign that some families are giving up on public schools altogether and opting for private schools or moving to the suburbs.

"There are 20 fewer applicants on the waitlist, but they’re not just disappearing magically," Ciulla-Lipkin said. "It has to have something to do with family choice. If people are on the fence about going to public school, the waitlist is tipping a lot of families over the edge. They're saying, 'We'd rather not have to deal with that stress.'"

The DOE said some of the overcrowding should be relieved by the new Upper West Success Academy charter school, which opened last year after a bitter fight over whether the school should be allowed to share space with other schools in the Brandeis Educational Campus.

The school has received 386 applications from District 3 families, and 1,176 applications in all, for 84 kindergarten seats, a spokeswoman said. Upper West Success Academy will hold a lottery April 9 that will determine who is offered seats.

The charter school isn't the only new option in District 3. The district also has eight new magnet schools with specialized curriculums. Applications for those schools are due April 20.

Every student on the P.S. 87 waitlist will probably be offered a seat at the school, said Laiserin, the school's parent association co-president. But it's still troubling that local public schools can't keep up with demand, she added.

"It's the new normal," Laiserin said. "We have a waitlist, and it's very stressful for everyone on it. It's a terrible feeling for a school to feel like they can't take their zoned students."

P.S. 166 had a long waitlist a few years ago, but this year the school was able to offer placements to all the zoned kids who applied, in part because the school added a new kindergarten class, said a school employee. However, adding the new kindergarten class cost the school its pre-K program, she added.

"We really hated having a waitlist for zoned students," the P.S. 166 employee said. "Luckily we were able to add a third kindergarten. Unfortunately we lost our pre-K, but you can't have everything."