QUEENS — Nearly half of New York City's public schools are overcrowded, and the thousands of new seats in the pipeline won't be enough to fix the problem, a new analysis of city data shows.
The city's public schools were nearly 75,000 seats short in 2013, with overcrowding posing a problem across the five boroughs, according to a report by the Independent Budget Office.
While the city plans to add more than 47,000 new public school seats by 2023, many students will still be left in overcrowded schools, IBO's report found.
The DOE admits that overcrowding is a problem.
"Even with new seats, we recognize that overcrowded buildings exist in certain geographic pockets throughout the city," Elizabeth Rose, acting deputy chancellor for the DOE's Division of Operations, said last week at a City Council hearing.
Part of the issue is that school enrollment is projected to grow by nearly 6 percent across the city from 2011 to 2021, with Queens rising the most, by more than 10 percent, the IBO found.
"The result of all this overcrowding is that class sizes are pushed above reasonable levels," said Leonie Haimson, of the advocacy group Class Size Matters, which estimates the DOE needs to add 100,000 new seats to meet schools' needs.
"Students have lost their cluster rooms, are assigned to lunch as early as 10 a.m., and/or have no access to the gym," Haimson continued. "Many special needs students are forced to receive their services in hallways or closets rather than in dedicated spaces."
The school system's overcrowding problems are complicated by the fact that there's a mismatch between demand and space: the city also had more than 156,000 unused school seats in 2013, the IBO found.
Since most young children go to school close to home, however, it can be difficult for the DOE to use the available seats to ease overcrowding. Rose noted that 80 percent of overcrowded buildings house elementary schools.
To address overcrowding, the DOE's Division of Operations is "implementing a system to better track overutilization," and is also opening new schools, redrawing elementary and middle school zones and converting "inefficient spaces" in existing schools, Rose said.
Woodside mom Debra McGowan, with her daughter, Sydney, who is in first grade at P.S. 11, is fighting for a middle school in her overcrowded district. (Debra McGowan)
But some parents are so fed up, they're taking matters into their own hands.
Woodside mom Debra McGowan, who has son in preschool and a daughter in first grade at P.S. 11 — where she is in a class with 46 students and two teachers crammed into one room while the school gets a much-needed $70 million 300-seat annex — worries the department isn't planning enough for the time these kids get to middle school.
"A lot of families are moving here since it's still affordable compared to Brooklyn and Manhattan," said McGowan, who is leading a petition drive to get a new middle school in her area.
"It would take a year to design a middle school, a year to nine months to find land and three years to build — and that's when my daughter is going to need middle school," said McGowan, who plans to submit signatures to the chancellor at a public meeting on March 25.
Here's what's happening across the five boroughs:
District 2, which spans from TriBeCa, Greenwich Village and Chelsea to the Upper East Side, was the borough's most crowded in 2013, and needs nearly 3,000 more seats, according to the IBO. In Lower Manhattan, P.S. 276 and the Peck Slip School, for instance, cut pre-K programs because of overcrowding. The city is expected to add more than 4,000 seats to this district by 2023, but even then, the district will still be short by 42 seats, the IBO said.
District 10 — which includes the ritzy areas of Riverdale, the lower-income areas in the Central Bronx and is home to Bronx Science — is the borough's most overcrowded and best-performing district, according to Insideschools. Nearly 5,000 seats would have been needed in 2013 to handle overcrowding, and though the district is slated to get more than 3,000 new seats over the next several years, it will still have overcrowding issues, the IBO found.
District 20, which includes Sunset Park, Borough Park and Bay Ridge, was the most overcrowded in the city, according to the IBO's analysis, with 7,764 new seats need in 2013. Its elementary schools were so overcrowded that one mom was initially assigned three different schools in three different neighborhoods for her pre-schooler, kindergartner and fifth grader for this year. While the district is projected to get more than 4,500 seats by 2023, there will likely still be a huge need. More than 3,300 additional seats would be needed to alleviate the problem.
Western Queens' District 24 — home to Corona's P.S. 307, which has had the longest kindergarten waitlist of any public school for two years in a row — was the second most overcrowded in 2013. And though it's expected to get more than 8,500 new seats over the next several years, it will still be short by more than 4,400. Eastern Queens' Districts 25 and 26 were also among the most overcrowded, and Western Queens' District 30 is still projected to have a high need even after new seats are added.
The borough would have needed nearly 4,700 seats because of overcrowding in 2013. There will still be some overcrowding in the borough after the DOE adds more than 1,700 seats.