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DOE Glitch Sends Students from Under-Enrolled School to Overcrowded Ones

By  Julie  Shapiro and Amy Zimmer | October 5, 2012 6:55am 

MANHATTAN — P.S. 267 opened its doors to its first kindergarten class two years ago in hopes of relieving some overcrowding at Upper East Side elementary schools.

But a computer glitch at the Department of Education routed roughly a dozen new kindergartners to other nearby schools that are already overcrowded, leaving P.S. 267 with seats to spare, school officials admitted to parents at a meeting last month.

"It was a significant issue,” Caitlin Robisch of the DOE's portfolio planning team told parents at a Community Education Council meeting for a proposed District 2 rezoning that would slightly increase the zone for P.S. 267 while changing boundaries at P.S. 40, P.S. 116 and P.S. 59 for 2013.

Robisch said the snafu occurred because of a "miscommunication” between the DOE’s online maps that parents use and the internal database that schools use. 

Anytime schools are rezoned, there's a "labor intensive" process of updating maps on several systems, a DOE spokeswoman explained, noting that the discrepancies between the databases were fixed a month ago.

"We have resolved that,” Robisch said, “but not for the 2012 school year."

P.S. 267 has struggled to attract and keep students from the get-go in a district teeming with kids. When East Side Elementary, as it’s also called, opened in 2010 in a temporary space it shared with P.S. 158 on York Avenue, the school had no designated zone and took kids from across the district who couldn’t get into their own zoned schools.

But when many of those kindergartners got off of waitlists for their zoned schools the following year for first grade, they left P.S. 267 — a practice permitted by the DOE. So, the school's three classes of kindergarten were condensed into two first grade classes, parents said.

As the school moved this September into its permanent home at the former Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat building at 213 East 63rd St., this inaugural group, now in second grade, has been collapsed into one large class of 31 students.

Tobie Cornejo, a parent of twins in second grade at P.S. 267 and treasurer of the schools’ PTA, had hoped that her kids would be able to be in separate classes this year.

"That's not exactly how I anticipated their experience in public school,” Cornejo said at the meeting. "It's hard for me to read about overcrowding and waitlists [at other East Side schools] knowing the situation we're in. It's a shame.”

Despite having their own zone now, P.S. 267 parents are worried the attrition in other grades might continue because of the DOE error.

Parents feared that a shrinking roster of students could impact its budget — which is based on student enrollment — making it more difficult to plan for the school’s future hiring.

Drew Patterson, a DOE director of planning, told parents the department was having ongoing conversations with the school principal, Medea McEvoy, who directed inquiries on the matter to the DOE.

"We want to make sure 267 gets the kids it needs to be sustainable and to grow,” Patterson said.

A DOE spokeswoman said that the school has not been asked to return funds to the department, but that overfunded schools are required to set aside funding during the year in anticipation of budget adjustments due to changes in enrollment.

"We are currently working with the school to plan for this," she said. She also claimed that many of the students attending school outside of P.S. 267's zone were doing so because they had siblings at other schools, which is alllowed under DOE rules.

But because of the struggles with their dwindling student population, many P.S. 267 parents claimed the proposed rezoning changes — which would add a strip between East 58th to 59th streets from Fifth Avenue to the FDR Drive to P.S. 267 — wouldn’t help enough.

"I am quite concerned about the size of the zone,” Matthew Chook, co-president of P.S. 267’s PTA said. "We don't have time to wait to see if this is going to work or not."

The CEC will host another meeting on the proposed rezoning on Oct. 9 at P.S. 40, 319 E. 19th Street (between First and Second Avenues with the entrance on 20th Street), 6:30 p.m.