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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | Starting next fall, Soho resident Faridah Crispe might have to make four trips a day to accompany her children to and from elementary school.
“I want to be able to drop off and pick up my kids. We spend limited time with them as is, but I’m not really sure how we’re going to do it,” said Crispe, whose five-year-old daughter, Lyla, is on a long waitlist at P.S. 130, where her sister, Miriam, is currently in second grade.
Crispe said she would be very disappointed if her daughter was denied a spot in the school.
“I have no negative [feelings] towards the other public schools, but P.S. 130 academically is the best fit for my children,” Crispe said.
Lyla is one of 16 prospective P.S. 130 kindergarteners whose older siblings attend the school but might be denied admission there, per a recent decision by the N.Y.C. Department of Education.
The D.O.E. has granted 28 waitlisted P.S. 234 pre-kindergarteners spots at P.S. 130, a high-ranking elementary school on Baxter Street that is equally overcrowded. The D.O.E. is prioritizing acceptance of the Tribeca youngsters over the P.S. 130 waitlisted children whose out-of-zone siblings attend the school.
In this scenario, neighborhood families could have to arrange separate trips to two schools when dropping off and picking up their children.
“It’s never fair to parents to have to organize their travels to bring the children to different schools,” said P.S. 130 Principal Lily Woo, who has reservations about the plan.
The principal intended to fill the additional kindergarten class she requested for next year with her own waitlisted siblings, not with P.S. 234 children.
The faulty setup, Woo said, could cause families to take their older children out of P.S. 130 and move them to the school their younger children attend. “If they pull the kids out, there are fewer students on my register which we’ll lose funding for,” she said.
Greenleaf and other P.S. 234 parents are equally perturbed by the D.O.E.’s decision. “It puts the principal in a difficult situation where she wants to be welcoming and enthusiastic to the families, but also needs to think of the families that are already there,” he said.
“It sets a precedent of splitting up families and sending kids to a different Community District,” said Tribeca parent Christine Brogan, whose four-and-a-half-year-old son was recently offered a seat at P.S. 130. The plan also doesn’t account for the significant end-of-summer enrollment P.S. 130 typically experiences, Brogan said, and would likely separate Tribeca siblings in the future.
Brogan and other P.S. 234 waitlisted parents started a petition last week, appealing the D.O.E.’s decision to assign the surplus P.S. 234 youngsters to P.S. 130 and suggesting that the Department incubate the Peck Slip school at either P.S. 397 (Spruce Street) or P.S. 276 next fall and send their children there. As of June 8, they had collected 585 signatures and plan on sending the petition to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and D.O.E. Portfolio Development Director Elizabeth Rose.
The parents’ opposition to the plan, they stressed, has nothing to do with the caliber of P.S. 130, but with the school’s approximately one mile distance from Tribeca – contrary to concerns they previously raised to other media outlets about the school’s strict policies and foreign influence. “What makes an elementary school successful is the community that surrounds and nurtures it. It’s impossible to do that at P.S. 130, [given the distance,]” said education activist Tricia Joyce, whose twin girls attend P.S. 234. “We can’t afford to be pitted against each other. It’ll set off immeasurable discomfort and conflict. We have to stand together hand-in-hand and say, ‘this is not good for our children.’”
Though Woo runs a “wonderful” program, sending Tribeca youngsters to P.S. 130 is not a viable option, echoed P.S. 234 waitlisted parent Marc Siden.“Part of their education is nurtured by [parents’] involvement in the community,” he said. “As a Tribeca parent, you can’t just run over to that school and help out.”
Like many other Tribeca parents, Brogan and Siden haven’t explored private school options because they expected their children to be offered a spot at one of the community’s “strong” public schools.
“We were never told of P.S. 130 as a potential alternative… they just let us know a few days ago,” said Siden.
Equally frustrating, he and the other waitlisted families only have until Friday, June 10, to accept or reject the alternative offer. “It’s not enough time to seek out alternatives if we wanted to go that way,” said Siden.
Meanwhile, Woo expects parents to commit to sending their child to P.S. 130 once they accept a seat there. “We don’t want to them to think of us as a temporary structure… they have to understand that, once they come and accept a seat in our school, they’re in our school. It’s the only way we can have a cohesive school,” she said.
P.S. 234 Parent Coordinator Magdalena Lenski said that, the day waitlisted families received letters, they expressed concern, but that she has received few complaints since. “A number of parents called me after the [P.S. 130] tour last week, saying how pleased they were with [the school],” she said, noting that children who accept a seat at another public school may still reserve their spot on the P.S. 234 waitlist.
The school, which will accept approximately 125 kindergartners next year, anticipates to lose between five and seven registered kindergartners between now and the fall. “As soon as we get a cancellation, we call the next person off the wait list, and we’ll keep on doing that through mid-October,” said Lenski.
P.S. 234 Principal Lisa Ripperger did not return calls for comment.
D.O.E. Spokesperson Barbara Morgan defended the Department’s decision in a written statement, saying only, “P.S. 234 is a very popular school that received a high number of applications this year, and the reality is that it simply cannot accommodate all of those applications. As a result, alternate offers were made to a number of families who had been waitlisted at P.S. 234 to P.S. 130, which is a very high quality school.”
P.S. 130, Morgan added, has received an “A” on each of its last three progress reports. The decision to offer Tribeca youngsters seats there, the spokesperson noted, has nothing to do with the Department’s plan to rezone Lower Manhattan schools in 2012.
“I’m concerned, obviously. These are young children, and I don’t want to send them out of the neighborhood,” said NYS Assembly Speaker and School Overcrowding Task Force Leader Sheldon Silver, responding to the news. “That’s why we keep the pressure to keep building schools here.”
Overcrowding expected to worsen, warns Greenleaf
The recent announcement of the Peck Slip school provided only temporary relief to Downtown parents, some of whom anticipate frightening overcrowding in neighborhood elementary schools in the years to come.
The city Department of Education needs to open two more Lower Mamhattan elementary schools by 2015 in order to avoid severe overcrowding, according to P.S. 234 parent Eric Greenleaf, who provided an update on current and future Downtown school capacity at the school’s Parent-Teacher Association meeting on Thurs., June 2.
The neighborhood’s population and residence count have more than doubled since 2000, according to city and census data Greenleaf compiled. In 2009 alone, nearly 1,000 babies were born in Community District 1 — a 46 percent increase since 2005. The district is slated to have at least 70,000 residents by next year.
Contrary to the D.O.E.’s claims, current and future capacity levels of Downtown elementary schools, Greenleaf noted, are insufficient to accommodate the population surge. “If births go up by 46 percent, the D.O.E. must plan for school enrollment being up 46 percent. It’s simple arithmetic,” he said. “They need a solution and they need it really, really fast. It takes a long time to build a new school and, frankly, we’re running out of time.”
Even with the Peck Slip school incubator opening in 2012, Downtown public schools can only take in 400 kindergarteners per year, prompting a shortage of 182 kindergarten seats and an overall shortage of 388 elementary seats by 2014. The Peck Slip school, slated to have 476 seats, will be at full capacity once it opens at its permanent location in 2015, according to Greenleaf.
“If you open up a new school in a particular year, you’re not supposed to fill the school that year,” he said, since the school will have no room to expand by one grade per year thereafter.
In order to lessen overcrowding, the D.O.E. has historically proposed to relocate 5th grade students from P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 to schools in Chelsea; and I.S. 289 students to P.S. 1. and I.S. 131, both in Chinatown.
Neither option, however, is suitable, Greenleaf said. If the D.O.E. doesn’t quickly devise another solution, he said, overcrowding will worsen and eventually negate the area’s $30 billion post-9/11 redevelopment. “People are just going to move out if the city refuses to back up all this development with schools,” he said.
Greenleaf encouraged neighborhood parents to write Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressing their concerns and to continue putting pressure on the D.O.E. to reserve the Tweed Courthouse classrooms for Downtown children after the Peck Slip school incubates there.
“The D.O.E. has listened in the past and built new schools Downtown when we presented compelling evidence and made our voices loud enough,” he said. “These new schools will happen only if we work together.”