GRAMERCY — Pre-K programs are so scarce in Gramercy and Murray Hill that local education advocates are calling it a "pre-K desert."
The only public school in the area that will offer a pre-K program this fall will be P.S. 281, a new elementary school opening at 616 First Ave.
P.S. 40 on East 20th Street currently offers a popular pre-K program, but it will close this fall because of overcrowding at the school, according to a Department of Education spokesman. P.S. 40's 36 half-day pre-K seats will move to P.S. 281 instead, the spokesman said.
“District 2 has one of the most lackluster pre-K offerings in the city,” said Eric Goldberg, a member of the Community Education Council for District 2, which covers neighborhoods from TriBeCa to the Upper East Side.
“In the past, the rationale for not offering pre-K was that there was overcrowding, but now that there’s a new school being built, it’s no longer an excuse," Goldberg continued. "There’s been no movement to fill this need.”
Murray Hill's P.S. 116, at 210 E. 23rd St., used to offer pre-K, but the school got rid of it several years ago because of overcrowding.
“We loved our program but ended it to open a sixth kindergarten section a few years ago, and it didn’t help overcrowding,” said Marlowe Bamberger, PTA president at P.S. 116. “It just enabled our school to take in 25 more kids and then move them along through fifth grade in crowded rooms.”
And P.S. 59, at 233 E. 56th St. in Sutton Place, was planning to offer pre-K in 2012, but even after the school moved into a newly renovated and expanded building, it also lost the program to overcrowding, Goldberg said.
“People in this area need to look elsewhere [for preschool programs] or they’re not coming to school ready to learn, which brings a big issue into our neighborhood,” Goldberg said.
With few seats, demand for pre-K in the area is strong — last year, 387 kids applied for the 36 spots at P.S. 40, according to the DOE.
But those 36 half-day seats, which will move to P.S. 281, are only for two-and-a-half hours in the morning or the afternoon, which can be difficult for working parents, Goldberg said.
Families can also apply for pre-K programs run by community organizations, including one at United Cerebral Palsy of New York City, at 122 E. 23rd St.
The nonprofit offers a free, year-round pre-K program that is open five days a week from 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. It also provides free round-trip transportation to and from the school, a spokeswoman said.
Availability for the next school year will vary depending on how many children graduate.
Community organizations run their own admissions process and many fill on a rolling basis, while applications to public school pre-K programs are available on the DOE's website and are due April 5.