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Upper East Side Won't Get Any New Pre-K Seats Under Citywide Expansion

 Students at P.S. 267, the Upper East Side's most competitive pre-K program in 2012.
Students at P.S. 267, the Upper East Side's most competitive pre-K program in 2012.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

UPPER EAST SIDE  — The city will add more than 4,000 full-day pre-K seats to public schools across the five boroughs next year — but the Upper East Side won’t get a single one.

The city’s plan will bring an additional 234 seats to District 2, a large area that includes the Upper East Side, Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, Midtown East, Greenwich Village and Battery Park City. However, no new seats were awarded to the Upper East Side’s pre-K programs, which were among the most competitive district-wide in 2012, according to the DOE.

Currently, there are only four public pre-K programs that serve the Upper East Side, a neighborhood densely populated by families with young children.

“The parents are outraged that we’re not getting more pre-K seats,” said Lyss Stern, an Upper East Side mother of three and founder of Divalysscious Moms. “Knowing how few spots there are in the neighborhood, why would they not open up more spaces for our kids?”

Eric Goldberg, who serves on the District 2 Community Education Council, said that one reason the Upper East Side did not receive new seats was that very few principals in the neighborhood requested new or expanded programs.

"Our schools on the Upper East Side have typically been very crowded," he said, "and I think that there was some concern amongst principals that they wouldn't have the space to maintain the expanded programs over the long run."

Existing pre-K programs in the neighborhood have historically not been able to keep up with demand.

In 2012, P.S. 267, the most sought-after pre-K program in the area, accepted 36 out of 517 applicants, or 7 percent, according to a ranking compiled by DNAinfo New York based on DOE data. P.S. 158 and P.S. 198 had slightly higher acceptance rates at 8 percent and 10 percent, respectively. P.S. 158 accepted 36 of 476 applicants, while P.S. 198 had 28 spots for 281 applicants. The Ella Baker School had the highest acceptance rate of any school in the neighborhood, at 11 percent. It had 54 spots for almost 475 applicants.

Only five of the district’s 19 pre-K programs had acceptance rates lower than or equal to those of Upper East Side schools in 2012, according to the ranking based on DOE data.

In addition, two pre-K programs that had higher 2012 acceptance rates than any of the Upper East Side schools were awarded additional seats for the 2014-2015 school year. P.S. 124, in Chinatown, accepted 12 percent of applicants in 2012 and was awarded 18 new seats for next year. The Alfred E. Smith School, located near the Manhattan Bridge, was also awarded 18 new seats, after admitting 32 percent of applicants in 2012.

In a letter to the mayor's office, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer recently questioned the way that new seats in Manhattan had been distributed. She pointed out that Districts 1 and 5 currently appear to have a surplus of pre-K openings, but were each awarded new seats for next year. District 2 has the greatest need for additional pre-K spots, the data shows, and the district needs about 1,500 more seats even with the new spots included.

While Goldberg noted the DOE will be far from meeting the overall needs of the area, he said the department has hinted there may still be a chance for more schools to apply for seats for next year.

"My hope is that more schools do apply," he said. "I think it's a disappointment if the Upper East Side and District 2 in general can't realize the dream of universal pre-K."

The Upper East Side did recently gain 36 pre-K spots when P.S. 267 launched its program during the 2012-2013 school year. However, with only 154 pre-K seats to serve the entire neighborhood, many families are left without a public school option for their young ones.

Stern, who currently has two children at PS. 59, sent them to a private pre-school because there were even fewer public school options at the time they were applying. But this is an option not everyone can afford, she noted.

“Pre-schools in this area can cost $25,000 to $40,000 a year,” she said. “For most parents that’s just not doable.”   

Officials said they will release a list of community-based organizations that will offer additional pre-K seats in May or June, but there is no indication which neighborhoods will receive additional seats.