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P.S. 276 Parents Worry Overcrowding Will Cost Students Art, Science Rooms

By Jeanmarie Evelly | November 29, 2012 11:50am

BATTERY PARK CITY — Parents at P.S. 276 are demanding the city limit the number of kindergarten classes at the school next fall — saying overcrowding is threatening the art, music, science and pre-K programs that make the Battery Park City school so special.

PTA parents launched a petition Tuesday that quickly gathered hundreds of signatures, asking that next year’s kindergarten be limited to three classes — the number the school’s building was designed to accommodate.

For the past two years, P.S. 276 has been forced to accept five kindergarten classes to deal with a shortage of available school seats in lower Manhattan.

With the school’s first fifth-grade classes set to open next year, parents say P.S. 276 will be forced to re-fashion its popular pre-K, art, music and science program spaces into traditional classrooms to accommodate the extra kids.

“We’re out of classrooms,” said Tammy Meltzer, who added that her third-grader is enamored with the school’s stellar science program. “[It’s] one of her favorite subjects.”

P.S. 276’s special programs are integral to the school, parents explained. Its art room was designed with a kiln for ceramics projects, its music room holds instruments too large to be carted from classroom to classroom, and its science room is equipped with Bunsen burners and a garden space.

“The science program is rather unique. Most elementary school students don’t get to start taking science in pre-K and kindergarten, [but] our kids get to go to science class twice a week, and they’ve really blossomed,” said PTA president Matt Schneider, who has a 7-year-old at P.S. 276.

“We believe an education is bigger than just reading and math,” he said.

Schneider and others fear that if the school continues to enroll the number of kindergartners it took in this year next fall, it will be forced to close the program spaces and provide a less-enriching curriculum.

“Art in a cart is just not the same,” Meltzer said. “This is part of the curriculum of the school and for the DOE to come in and say, well, we’ll just take away the cluster rooms — that isn’t a solution to education.”

In a statement, Department of Education spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said the city has opened more than 2,000 new school seats in lower Manhattan over the past five years. P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School are among those that opened. The Peck Slip School, which opened its kindergarten this fall in temporary space at the Tweed Courthouse, will host 712 students when its permanent building opens in the South Street Seaport in 2015.

But parents say the new schools aren’t enough to meet the needs of a booming population of families Downtown. Almost 100 kindergartners were waitlisted for their zoned lower Manhattan schools last spring.

“The city has built lower Manhattan into this amazing neighborhood that everybody wants to live in, but they haven’t kept up with the pace of growth, school-wise,” Schneider said.

The DOE has been attempting to rezone school districts to shift some students from overcrowded areas into schools with more space. In 2011, the District 2 Community Education Council approved a rezoning plan for lower Manhattan but ultimately dropped a provision that would have shifted some students from crowded P.S. 234 in TriBeCa to schools in Greenwich Village and Chinatown.

This fall, the DOE suggested busing waitlisted kindergartners in the neighborhood to P.S. 1 in Chinatown, a plan that many parents denounced. The children were added to the extra kindergarten class at P.S. 276 instead.

"P.S. 276 has the classroom space available to accommodate students enrolled," Feinberg wrote in an e-mail. "We have presented options to the CEC in the past to use the available space at P.S. 1 to help address overcrowding in lower Manhattan, but these proposals have been rejected."

Parents say moving kids out of the neighborhood or stuffing them into existing schools are not acceptable responses.

“We should not have kids and families on waiting lists being told they’ll be bused out of the neighborhood,” Meltzer said, adding that the DOE should open an additional school Downtown or at least lease classroom space in the community until the Peck Slip School’s permanent building opens.

“They can find local solutions," she added. "There’s plenty of real estate."

As of Thursday morning, the parents’ online petition had garnered more than 300 signatures.

Richard Wesolowski, whose 4-year-old daughter Ava is in pre-K at P.S. 276, said it would be a “big blow” to students if the school was forced to repurpose its program space.

He said P.S. 276’s terrific reputation is one of the reasons he and his wife decided to buy a home on Rector Street after years as renters, and that the neighborhood’s great schools were integral to its rebirth after 9/11.

“The city has done a great job at attracting people to the area,” he said. “But nothing is going to scare people away more than a lack of space in the most desirable schools.”