Families wait-listed for local pre-K programs have been offered spots at a program on East 10th Street instead, said D.J. Sheppard, a Department of Education liaison between families and the department.
"I have a couple of families that have been assigned to [East] 10th street... and they live in the [West] 90s," Sheppard told Community Education Council 3 members at a meeting last week.
These families applied to pre-K programs at P.S. 185 on West 112th Street and P.S. 165 on West 109th Street, but "for whatever reasons these families are still being put very far away," she said.
Of the district's 1,280 seats, 586 of them are at public schools in District 3 — which stretches from West 59th Street to 122nd Street on the West Side. The rest are located at New York City Early Education Centers, which have contracts with the DOE to provide free universal pre-K.
While DOE Superintendent Ilene Altschul said last week that several of the district's pre-K programs have waitlists, the department could not say how many programs had waitlists nor how many seats remain unfilled. The DOE also did not say why some families were offered seats in other districts.
Families gain admission to the district's public school pre-K seats based on a set of criteria, Altschul explained.
Children who live in the area, or "zone," that a school serves get priority admission to that school, followed by kids with a sibling attending a zoned school.
After those two groups have seats, if there's still space, children with a sibling in the larger district are admitted. The final, lowest level of priority goes to a child living in the district but with no in-district siblings.
By that criteria and given demand, a 4-year-old with no siblings who happens to live near one of the schools with only one or two pre-K classes does not have a strong chance of going to a public school pre-K on the Upper West Side.
Moreover, a third of the 12 elementary schools offering pre-K have only one class, with 18 or fewer seats available.
"We can’t accommodate everyone’s request," Altschul said, "and [the DOE] tried to find a location as close as possible, which often for some families is out of district."
Families are being accommodated, but "it might not be in the district or in the location that they want," she said.
Altschul acknowledged that there aren't enough pre-K seats in the district, noting that while 14 other districts in the city are getting new standalone pre-K centers, District 3 isn't one of them.
However, the lack of seats is particularly pronounced in the southern part of the district, where overcrowding is a major factor, she said.
"The schools [in the southern part] don’t have the capacity. I have many conversations — I will say to a principal, 'Can you open another program?' And they say, 'We can’t, we just don’t have the capacity right now,'" Altschul said.
P.S. 199, for example, is already at 120 percent capacity and there are still 93 students on waitlists who are zoned to attend kindergarten at the elementary school, according to the DOE.
P.S. 242 could offer more than 18 pre-K seats if the charter school it shares a building with, Future Leaders Institute, gave back some space, argued CEC member Theresa Hammonds.
"Since many of our public school spaces are already bursting at the seams, the city has a responsibility to explore other spaces or re-site co-located charter schools so that pre-K and district community schools can be established and expand," added CEC 3 President Joe Fiordaliso.
"I’m very concerned that the mayor is not doing enough to meet his commitment to provide universal pre-K to District 3," he added.
Every family in District 3 and in the city that applied in the first round got a pre-K offer, said DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield, without saying how many received offers in their respective districts.
The DOE is addressing the need and has already added 200 pre-K seats for the upcoming school year, he said.
As of Tuesday, an additional 26 pre-K seats were added in the district, including 18 seats at P.S. 163 and eight special-education seats spread across the district, he said.