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Kindergarten Waitlists Persist Despite Upper West Side Rezoning

By  Amy Zimmer and Nicole Levy | March 21, 2017 8:41am 

 P.S. 199 on West 70th Street is one of three schools on the Upper West Side with waitlists for the incoming class of kindergartners.
P.S. 199 on West 70th Street is one of three schools on the Upper West Side with waitlists for the incoming class of kindergartners.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

UPPER WEST SIDE — A complicated and controversial rezoning of Upper West Side elementary schools approved in November to address overcrowding appears to have had little impact so far, with several schools in the district reporting waitlists for next year’s crop of kindergartners.

P.S. 199, a highly coveted neighborhood school on West 70th Street — which saw its zone shrink to exclude two Lincoln Towers buildings — had a waitlist of 34 students. That was slightly more than last year’s waitlist, before the rezoning, of 30 students.

P.S. 9 on West 84th Street had a waitlist of 23 kids, up from last year’s 19, and P.S. 87 on West 78th Street had a waitlist of 30 kids, which was down slightly from last year’s 34 children.

“After a successful rezoning, there shouldn’t be a waitlist,” said Wendy Lamont Flagstad, a parent at P.S. 87. “This should be a happy time when everything is hunky dory, especially with all of the assurances we got from the Department of Education.”

Instead, many families who live within her school’s zone were shut out, and others who have kids in the school are bracing for a return of overcrowding, she said.

Those fears could be resolved by the end of the school year, after the DOE distributes offers to district- and citywide Gifted & Talented programs in late April, a neighborhood school leader countered.

“There are frequently waitlists at most Upper West Side schools before the offers go out for the district-wide and citywide gifted and talented seats, of which there are more than 100 seats,” said Kim Watkins, a member of District 3’s Community Education Council, which approved the rezoning.

Among the moving pieces of the CEC-sanctioned plan — which aimed to tackle not only overcrowding, but inequity and segregation in local schools — P.S. 452 will move in September from West 77th Street to West 61st Street into P.S. 191’s building.

Meanwhile P.S. 191 — which, unlike its neighbors, is a largely minority and low-income school and had been on a state list for being “persistently dangerous” — will move into a new building in Riverside Center on West End Avenue near West 61st Street.  

P.S. 452 opened seven years ago to relieve overcrowding at P.S. 87. Moving the small school from its current location — where its principal had been looking forward to growing it — would re-create problems at P.S. 87, parents warned.

“Everything that was gained in the last seven years at P.S. 87 will be lost,” said Lamont Flagstad, noting that many children in the upper grades at P.S. 452 are hoping to come to her school once the DOE announces options for the families there to apply to the newly zoned schools.

“They’re all knocking on 87’s door. At one point our parent coordinator was getting hundreds of calls from 452 parents,” she said. (The parent coordinator at P.S. 87 did not return DNAinfo's request for comment.)  “Early indications are that the schools that are overcrowded are still overcrowded — and this is just the first stage in the process before we know what’s happening with the upper grades.”

Lamont Flagstad was especially upset that the DOE’s projections were based on kindergarten figures and not the upper grades. It’s unclear what options the DOE will present to parents with children at P.S. 452, but many made it clear during the rezoning process that they didn’t want to travel the one and a half miles to the new school building.

Noah Gotbaum, a member of District 3’s Community Education Council who was the sole dissenting voice when the rezoning came before the body for a vote, was not surprised by the aftermath.

“Parents, certainly at 87 and some at 199 and 9, recognized that you can’t essentially eliminate 350 elementary seats in one of the most overcrowded areas in the city and not pay the price,” he said. “I was all in favor of the diversity goals, but to pretend this wasn’t going to cause massive overcrowding was completely unrealistic. It was a fantasy to believe you could put together a plan that eliminated those seats and not cause much worse overcrowding.”

Gotbaum is also worried about what will happen with class sizes in the upper grades at P.S. 87 and 199, which will also likely take 452 students.

“The 199 parents were sold a bill of goods, now the bill comes due both at the kindergarten level and at upper grades, too,” he said. “It’s terrible planning and bad policy, and it’s unfortunate.”

There were more families who listed P.S. 191 on their kindergarten application this year, from 97 last year to 171 during this most recent round, according to DOE data.

But there was also a significant increase in the number of applicants to P.S. 199, from 688 to 787.

DOE officials believe the zoning will prove successful in time and noted that there will likely be movement off of the waitlists, as there usually is as families accept private school offers, Gifted & Talented offers or move.

The waitlists were also driven by the large numbers of applicants, who were grandfathered in as zoned siblings, which is expected to decrease over the next several years, officials noted.

“The at-scale impact of this rezone will occur over several years, and we’ll continue to support all impacted schools and engage families throughout this process,” DOE spokesman Will Mantell said in a statement. “Additionally, many families receive offers from schools where they are waitlisted on a rolling basis through the spring and summer.”

Watkins, of District 3’s CEC, said the council was “very confident that in the long run … there’s no reason to be alarmed.”

“A great deal of movement takes place between the time when the initial offer numbers were released and the latter part of April, when Gifted & Talented offers go out,” she said.