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Murray Hill School Loses $100K After Fewer Students Enroll Than Expected

By Heather Holland | February 11, 2014 7:15am
 A rezoning meant to help relieve overcrowding at P.S. 116 is hurting the school instead, parents said.
A rezoning meant to help relieve overcrowding at P.S. 116 is hurting the school instead, parents said.
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MURRAY HILL — A chronically overcrowded Murray Hill elementary school recently suffered a $100,000 budget cut after fewer students enrolled than expected, parents said.

P.S. 116 has long had more students than its East 33rd Street building could handle, so last year the Department of Education opened a new school, P.S. 281, nearby to relieve the space crunch.

But parents say the DOE's rezoning plan worked too well, removing too many incoming kindergartners from P.S. 116's zone. The school was supposed to have five kindergarten classes with 110 to 125 students this school year — down from 138 kindergartners the previous year.

Instead, the number of kindergartners fell to 98, or just four classes.

“We’re frustrated with the fact that something that was supposed to help us is hurting us,” said PTA co-president Marlowe Bamberger. “We have difficult decisions to make when we talk about budget next year.”

P.S. 116, also known as the Mary Lindley Murray School, lost the $100,000 because school funding is based on the number of students served.

"We had to ask, ‘How can we raise more money to offset that $100,000?’” Bamberger said.

During a recent meeting, the PTA appealed to parents for additional donations, and the PTA also ramped up its fundraising efforts with a dance-a-thon and a read-a-thon, which gave students a chance to raise money from sponsors outside of school.

"We are brainstorming new ideas to add to our fundraising efforts or trying to reinvent existing ones to be more profitable, but we are also leaning heavily on a lot of our local community vendors to help cut costs," said Bamberger.

“We still need to hire specialty teachers for programs like art and music even if enrollment is down. There are just certain things we can’t cut. It’s a challenge, but the PTA is working overtime to try and emphasize the need to maintain life as we know it," she continued.

School officials have not decided what they will cut if the PTA cannot make up for the budget decrease, parents said.

The DOE and the school's principal Jane Hsu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One possible upside of the smaller kindergarten class is that the school now has room for a pre-K program and the school submitted an application for one to start next fall, parents said. P.S. 116 had a pre-K program a few years ago but got rid of it because there wasn’t enough room.

But the addition of pre-K would not increase funding for kindergarten to fifth grade, which is funded separately, said Bamberger.

Last year, P.S. 116, which is located at 210 E. 33rd St. and serves about 700 students, was using all 31 of its classrooms, but the school is only using 29 this year, Bamberger said.

“The only reason we got rid of [pre-K] was because we were busting at the seams,” said Bamberger. “Now, we have room for it and we want it in.”