KIPS BAY — A new school being built on First Avenue near East 34th Street will open in fall of 2013 as an elementary school for grades kindergarten through fifth, the Department of Education announced on Wednesday.
Citing the tremendous need for kindergarten seats in the area surrounding the new school, the DOE said it has decided not to include middle school class sections at P.S. 281, said Josef Lukan, from the DOE’s Office of Portfolio Management, at a District 2 Community Education Council meeting.
Limiting P.S. 281 to just K through fifth will leave room for four kindergarten classes, instead of the three that would be available if the school were made to accommodate grades K through eighth, Lukan explained.
“District 2 and the Midtown East area have an excess of middle school seats,” said Lukan, who defined Midtown East roughly as the area that stretches from East 20th Street to East 57th streets.
“[But] there is strong demand, and growing demand, in Midtown East for additional kindergarten seats,” he added, “which is demand that [existing schools are] not going to be able to meet going forward with our current kindergarten capacity.”
Kindergarten overcrowding has indeed been a big problem in the eastern parts of District 2, which extends from TriBeCa north to the Upper East Side.
Both P.S. 59 in Midtown East and P.S. 116 in Kips Bay were faced with lengthy kindergarten waitlists this year, and P.S. 59, which is moving into a new, bigger building this fall, has already decided to scrap its pre-K program to make room in the popular neighborhood school.
Lukan said that in the past several years, the number of kindergarten applications for P.S. 59, P.S. 116 and P.S. 40 in Gramercy has climbed 11 percent, while middle school enrollment has remained about the same.
Lukan also said that Simon Baruch Middle School, on East 21st Street, is only about 85 percent full, and that many students decide to travel outside their immediate neighborhoods to attend the middle school of their choice.
“We’ve been running analytics, and we do not see the need for additional middle school seats,” Lukan explained.
But Shino Tanikawa, president of the District 2 CEC, cautioned against trusting the DOE’s statistics, calling them “notoriously inaccurate.”
“The formulas are not good, and there’s so many things the formulas can’t account for,” Tanikawa added. “I know for a fact that a lot of middle schools have 30 kids in a classroom, 35, 38 in some schools.”
Eric Greenleaf, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business and the parent of twins heading to the Salk School of Science in the fall, also worried that the DOE is not considering that the elementary school students currently in need of space will eventually go on to middle school.
“The population of soon-to-be kindergartners is just growing so rapidly that they’re just doing all they can to satisfy that need,” said Greenleaf, who did not attend the meeting on Wednesday. “It’s great that they’re building these elementary schools, but they can’t do that at the expense of these middle school seats.”
“More and more families are saying, ‘We’re in the city, we’re in the city to stay,’” added Greenleaf. “And so we have to make plans for these middle school kids.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, no parents spoke out in opposition of the plan to limit P.S. 281 to grades K through fifth.
Instead, several parents suggested that the school offer a pre-K program and possibly a gifted and talented or dual language program.
The area around P.S. 281 will also have to be rezoned to accommodate the new school — a process the DOE said will impact P.S. 40, P.S. 116, P.S. 59 and P.S. 267 on East 63rd Street — so several parents wondered when they will know where their child will be heading in the fall of 2013.
Ella Belotserkovskaya, 35, whose 4-year-old daughter will likely attend kindergarten at P.S. 281 in 2013, said the evening left her with more questions than answers.
But grade levels were less of a concern than the proximity of the East 34th Street heliport to the new school, which will feature a rooftop playground as well as a ground-level play space.
“I know there are some studies that say that excessive noise can impact how the kids are learning,” said Belotserkovskaya, who lives next door to the proposed school and is intimately familiar with the noise and gasoline fumes emanating from the heliport.
“It really is a true issue,” she added. “It’s like living in an airport.”