UPPER WEST SIDE — New neighborhood enrollment projections from the Department of Education had parents fuming at a public meeting Monday after they learned the data didn't factor in potentially high numbers of students as a result of new area real estate development.
"For the purposes of our conversation this model does not factor in potential residential development," admitted Yael Kalban, of DOE's Division of Portfolio Planning, at a meeting Monday night with education leaders and parents to discuss future use of the Beacon School building.
The DOE projects there will be 25 to 133 excess sixth-grade seats for the 2015-'16 school year, based on the number of current fourth-graders and the area having a 96 percent student retention rate. In the past decade though, retention rates have soared as high as 103 percent in some years, Kalban said.
"It’s not an exact science," she acknowledged. "We can’t predict behavior."
Parents and advocates were not pleased with the projections.
"Is that good planning? Is that adequate? It seems to me all too often we find ourselves reacting to a crisis," said CEC 3 President Joe Fiordaliso, frustrated by a scenario in which only 25 extra seats would exist, in a projection that does not include new neighborhood residential development.
"I agree... 25 seats at the low end is quite low. And there are always unkowns," Kalban conceded. "I would agree that 25 is a little tight for my comfort level."
CEC member Noah Gotbaum took issue with how the capacity for students is calculated, a system he claimed doesn't account for additional rooms needed for special-education students.
"When you show me that we’re going to get close to the DOE projection on capacity, it sends off a flashing light for me and for us because those capacity numbers are simply unrealistic and not a way to educate kids," he said.
Parents said they were shocked to learn the DOE wasn't taking into account the new Upper West Side developments they see popping up around them, especially in the southern end of the district.
Community Board 7 member Mark Diller said he calculated there were more than 50 stories of new residential development going up in the West 60s, not including the Riverside Center development.
"There’s this fallacy that all these new buildings are condo owners that go to private schools, but I don’t think that’s true," said parent Molly MacDermot. "People are going to public school because I think they’re great and [because of] the economy."
Others argued the projection does not take into account the growing number of elementary school students in charter schools that ultimately go to district middle schools when they reach sixth grade and their charter school doesn't have a seat for them.
"There’s a break in reality here. There’s been no change in your unrealistic projections. There’s been no accounting for charter school seats and the huge real estate boom," said Marcy Drogan, a member of P.S. 87's parent assocation.
Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said she regularly hears from concerned parents on the issue and also pointed to anecdotal evidence around the neighborhood.
"Just look on the street and see how many pregnant women and women with strollers and twins and triplets," she said. "I think we’re going to have a lot more kids."
Kalban explained that though the DOE was not projecting a deficit of seats in coming years, "we’re not here tonight to say we don’t need a middle school. The CEC is working on their resolution, and we support that."
Fiordaliso said the CEC understood the feeling of urgency in the community about creating a solution to the perceived boom of students entering the district. The council aimed to have a proposal regarding the future use of the Beacon High School building, which will be vacated by the fall of 2015 and which the DOE is committed to making into a new school.
The majority of parents, CEC and Community Board 7 members want a 6-12 district school in the Beacon space, they said.
The CEC said it plans to pass a resolution detailing what type of school, programming, admissions criteria and leadership it prefers for the building that the DOE has said it will take into careful consideration in its planning.