UPPER WEST SIDE — The Department of Education announced plans to add another kindergarten class to a popular elementary school in order accommodate an unusually long waitlist — a move local education leaders are concerned will lead to overcrowding.
Parents on a waiting list for kindergarten seats at P.S. 199 have spent months pushing the DOE to find space for their kids. In response, the DOE announced it would be adding a 25-seat kindergarten class this fall after determining there was enough room — bringing the total to six kindergarten classes.
Superintendent Illen Altschul announced the news at District 3's Community Education Council meeting Wednesday night. While it appeared a victory for some parents, members of the council said they were concerned the extra class would lead to overcrowding and allow the DOE continues to cram more kids into the school rather than finding long-term solutions, like reconsidering the zoning of P.S. 199.
"I’m really disappointed with DOE’s decision to add another class," said CEC 3 President Joe Fiordaliso, who is also a parent at the school.
The school is already over capacity and the decision sets a "dangerous precedent," he said.
In late May, 98 children were waitlisted at the high-achieving school, considered one of the neighborhood's best. P.S. 199, located at 270 W. 70th St., had the second highest waitlist in the city, after a school in Corona, Queens, according to data released by the DOE in late April.
By August that number had dropped to around 50, as parents sought alternative options at gifted-and-talented programs and private schools, Altschul said.
This spring, frustrated waitlisted parents formed an advocacy group called P.S. 199 Local and demanded action from the DOE, including the creation of a new class. Reps from the group did not immediately respond to a reqest for comment.
Altschul defended the DOE's decision by pointing out that the addition of new seats would mean that the kids zoned for the school would be able to stay in the neighborhood rather than being forced to attend schools farther away.
CEC members and City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who also attended the meeting, were disappointed the DOE hadn't tried harder to encourage waitlisted parents to send their children to neighboring P.S. 191, which is about 10 blocks away.
While that school's reputation and tests scores have not been quite as stellar, officials are hoping its performance and parents' outlook can improve.
It was also a missed opportunity for integration, Rosenthal added.
"We want a lot of good integrated schools," she said. "This would have been an opportunity to create that atmosphere."
In addition, Altschul said she already called all the waitlisted families and helped host an open house for them at P.S. 191. Five families attended and three registered at the school the next day, she said.
Ultimately, as much as the CEC might hope to increase the diversity at P.S. 191, "it is the school’s responsibility to take ownership for their own zoned students," Altschul said.
While CEC members worried this issue would come up again next year, Altschul assured them that this solution was a one-time deal.
"It is a one-year bubble," claimed Altschul, who said the DOE did "extensive [school] walkthroughs and research" that led to the decision that the school could accommodate a new class.
Altschul also conceded that the DOE was having planning discussions about how to handle long wailtlists in the future, and that a rezoning of P.S. 199 may be an option worth considering.
"That may be something we need to look at...does the zone of 199 need to be rezoned," said Altschul.