UPPER WEST SIDE — A controversial redrawing of elementary school zones to help alleviate overcrowding has led to a drop in kindergartners on waitlists, just a few days before the school year begins.
Following a vote in November by Community Education Council 3, the district's zoning lines were changed to better distribute low-income families throughout area schools.
While early numbers in March showed persisting waitlists, many of those schools now have no in-zone waitlists as enrollment has progressed, according to school officials. The Department of Education won’t have finalized numbers until a couple months into the school year as they continue to change throughout late summer.
Most notably, the highly sought-after P.S. 199 currently has no waitlist, after having 34 students on the waitlist in March, according to the DOE's latest numbers. The decrease comes even after the school dropped its kindergarten sections from six to five, District 3 Superintendent Ilene Altschul noted at an August CEC 3 meeting.
“It will take several years for us to know if it truly works,” explained CEC3 president Kim Watkins, who said reduced waitlist numbers are the their ideal result of the rezoning. “We very much believed in the data that pointed to the ability to shift the overcrowding by allowing the schools in the middle part of the district to absorb more of those blocks that had a high concentration of kindergarten entry kids.”
While the numbers are improving, parents who were against the rezoning said they're still cautiously optimistic. Gary Ramsay, whose kids attend P.S. 199 and West End Secondary School, said he's eager to see the final numbers.
"The overcrowding numbers have improved... and if that's the direction these trend towards, obviously we want to see all the schools down to zero," he said. "We want improvement, but they're giving us these numbers, and no children have sat down in seats."
Ramsay, a vocal opponent of the rezoning plan, added that expected luxury developments like the nearby 200 Amsterdam Avenue — which is currently zoned for P.S. 452 — will eventually bring new, wealthy families into the P.S. 199 school zone and create the same overcrowding issues down the road.
P.S. 191 — a school with mostly minority and low-income students that is moving to the new Riverside Center School at West End Avenue and West 61st Street — also currently has no waitlist, DOE numbers show. That's after 171 families listed the school on their kindergarten applications this year, up from just 97 last year, according to DOE data from March.
Additionally, P.S. 87 at 160 W. 78th St. and P.S. 452, which moved into P.S. 191's old building at 210 W. 61st St., both currently have no waitlists.
The waitlist at P.S. 9, at 100 W. 84th St., decreased from 23 students in March to 13 currently, while the waitlist at P.S. 166, at 132 W. 89th St., rose to 12 after having no waitlist in March, DOE data shows.
While the rezoning also impacts five other schools in northern portion of District 3 — P.S. 84, P.S. 163, P.S. 75, P.S. 145, and P.S. 165 — many parents and officials had expressed more concerns about waitlists at the six schools farther south.
Former CEC3 member Noah Gotbaum, the sole dissenting vote against the rezoning plan, said that while he was in favor of rezoning P.S. 191, the current plan will eventually cause overcrowding at certain schools.
"I hope 452 flourishes, I hope 191 flourishes, I hope all these schools do," he said. "But to take a bow and say you've done something historic when in fact you've really increased overcrowding, not helped it."
Gotbaum explained that shifting schools would simply make history repeat itself and that the education council should have diverted more resources to the neglected and underfunded schools in the northern portion of the district.
But those who voted in favor of the CEC3 plan said the waitlist numbers were exciting and showed early signs of a positive change that will take years to fully realize.
"That was the intent of the rezoning, to shift the concentration of enrollment from a mere couple of schools in the southernmost part of the district and help it to move up to include [others]," Watkins said. "The bottom line is if we have done our jobs really well, our schools [will] continue to prosper and prosper even more through this rezoning and the hard work of school leaders and superintendents over the next couple of years."