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Parents Slam City Solutions for Downtown Kindergarten Waitlists

By Julie Shapiro | April 23, 2012 7:58pm
P.S. 276 students hard at work.
P.S. 276 students hard at work.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

LOWER MANHATTAN — The city will deal with Downtown's record kindergarten waitlists by sending the extra kids to Chinatown or cramming more students into already-crowded local schools, Department of Education officials told parents Monday.

Parents slammed the DOE's proposals as inadequate for dealing with the nearly 100 children who were waitlisted this year at four of Downtown's five elementary schools. The parents, joined by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, said the only real solution is to build another new school in Lower Manhattan.

"We cannot continue down the road of denial," said Tricia Joyce, a parent leader at P.S. 234 in TriBeCa. "We have a problem. We cannot go into our fifth year of trying to find a Band-Aid."

The city is launching the new Peck Slip School in temporary space in Tweed Courthouse this fall, but even with the addition of those 50 new kindergarten seats, Downtown still has dozens more applicants than available spots, said Drew Patterson, the DOE's director of south Manhattan planning.

To handle the large waitlists, Patterson suggested sending the extra children to P.S. 1 on Henry Street, which has some available space, or adding extra kindergarten classes to P.S. 276 in southern Battery Park City, the Spruce Street School in the base of the Frank Gehry building or the new Peck Slip School in Tweed Courthouse.

Each of those proposals has its drawbacks, parents said.

Downtown families have been reluctant to send their children to P.S. 1, which is several blocks north of the Brooklyn Bridge, and Amy Hom, P.S. 1's principal, has said her school does not have enough space for more children.

Adding extra kindergarten classes to Spruce, P.S. 276 or the Peck Slip School would also be difficult, parents and officials said.

If Spruce takes in an extra kindergarten class this fall, the school will not have enough space to launch its long-awaited middle school with its inaugural sixth-grade class in 2015, because the school would wind up using all its classrooms for elementary kids, Patterson said.

If P.S. 276 takes in an extra kindergarten class, it would have to either close its pre-K program or move its pre-K classes to another building, and it would also have to squeeze more than 30 first-graders into each classroom the following year, principal Terri Ruyter said.

And if the new Peck Slip School takes in an extra kindergarten class, it would run out of room in its temporary home before its new building opens in 2015, Patterson said.

Silver, who led Monday's meeting between the parents and DOE officials, called on the city to craft a permanent solution to the perennial waitlists at Downtown's schools.

"[The city] should site another elementary school in Lower Manhattan as soon as possible," Silver said. "Parents in this community should be able to send their children to their zoned school, period. There should be no question about it."

Silver also asked the city to look into leasing private space for this fall's kindergarten overflow. Ideas from parents include available retail space at 40 Wall St. and classrooms in the new Asphalt Green community center in Battery Park City.

The city has said that Lower Manhattan does not need any more school space because there are extra seats available nearby in Chinatown.

The kindergarten waitlists are still in flux and will likely shrink as children are accepted into gifted and talented programs or notify the city that their plans have changed, Patterson added.

However, Patterson still expects between 40 and 45 Downtown children will remain waitlisted for their zoned schools. 

The city plans to send out alternate offers to those families by the end of June, Patterson said.