MANHATTAN — A new elementary school being built in Kips Bay will need students to fill its freshly constructed halls when it opens in fall of 2013 — and the Department of Education has begun the process of carving out a new zone for the school.
Representatives from the DOE presented the preliminary zoning plan for the soon-to-open P.S. 281, which is rising on East 35th Street near First Avenue, to the District 2 Community Education Council on Wednesday night. They explained that the new school zone would include the area east of Second Avenue between East 23rd and 45th streets.
The new zone will create a ripple effect that will be felt across much of the East Side. School zones for P.S. 40 in Gramercy, P.S. 116 in Kips Bay and P.S. 59 in Midtown East — all of which have faced overcrowding problems in the past — will shrink. And the zone for P.S. 267 on East 63rd Street, which is currently under-enrolled, will expand.
"We're looking to alleviate some of the enrollment pressures,” said Drew Patterson, a director of planning for the DOE.
"It's an art,” he continued. “We have a narrow target to hit. We don't want to see any schools oversubscribed. We don't want to see any waitlists. And we don't want to see schools...left with empty [seats]."
Patterson added that the rezoning would not force any current students to switch schools, as the plan will only affect new, incoming students.
Although not yet open, P.S. 281 has been a hot topic among neighborhood parents for months. Last year, a vocal contingent from P.S. 116, eager to stem its own problems with overcrowding, lobbied the DOE to start two kindergarten classes for P.S. 281 a year before the school was set to open — a process known as incubation that would have given new kindergartners another option in a neighborhood that has historically lacked enough seats to accommodate all the children.
The DOE turned down that request, but now with the school nearing its opening date, the DOE has turned its attention to the East Side’s overcrowding problem and is using the rezoning process to evenly distribute children among schools.
The DOE is aiming to keep class sizes at P.S. 281, which will house 575 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, at 25 children per class — although some classes may start smaller to leave a little growing room, said Caitlin Robisch, the DOE's associate director of portfolio analysis in Manhattan.
"We're planning for average class sizes of 25 and not larger than that," Robisch said. "It's a very fine line to walk. We don't want schools to be under-enrolled, for budgetary reasons. But we do want to have smaller class sizes."
CEC members also raised concerns about the data the DOE used to chart the new zone, but CEC member Eric Goldberg said he expects those issues to be hashed out as the public weighs in on the proposal in the coming weeks and months.
“[The community] will provide the best perspective and information on the DOE’s proposal,” Goldberg said in an email. “We are committed to developing a zone for P.S. 281 and are confident we will have new zones in place to meet the needs of our students, schools and neighborhood.”
The District 2 CEC will hold a hearing on the zoning proposal Sept. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 347, located on East 23rd Street between Second and Third avenues. Members of the public are encouraged to comment on the zoning proposal via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.