Anger builds as school waitlists linger

BY JOSH ROGERS  |  These are our lives — these are our lives,” Jessica Whitney Gould told Dept. of Education officials Friday. She was hoping they’d get the sense of urgency she and Downtown parents are feeling waiting to find out where their 5-year-old children are going to go to school.

“Our son lives in the dining alcove,” she said.  “Why? Because we’re in a great neighborhood in a great school zone. Our lease is up. Do we sign for another year?”

Gould, who’s hoping for a spot at P.S. 234 in Tribeca, was one of three waitlisted parents invited to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s School Overcrowding Task Force meeting Fri., May 10.

Frustration filled the room as Education officials said it would take another month to come up with a plan to find alternate spaces somewhere in Manhattan (the officials ruled out busing the children over the Brooklyn Bridge).

The anger did not just come from waitlisted parents or the Lower Manhattan school advocates — even principal Terri Ruyter of P.S 276 chastised the officials for continuing to wait to look for temporary space to relieve the problem.

“I  just think it’s a day late and a dollar short,” she told them.  “I’m a Board of Ed employee — I’m also a parent and a taxpayer. I find it unconscionable that this is a continuing problem, that I spend monthly afternoons here listening to the same old thing time after time….

“I don’t know who’s making the decisions. I’m sure you  would help us if you could — somebody is getting in the way  of making this happen.”

Ruyter got angry after Ben Goodman, the director of the D.O.E.’s Manhattan office of public affairs, responded to a question from Silver about possible temporary school sites including former Battery Park City Parks Conservancy space.

Goodman said the next task force meeting to talk about longer term school planning was already scheduled for June 12, and he would take the site suggestions back to the D.O.E. He did not say whether the city would then have enough time to convert a temporary space for September.

Ruyter said the conservancy space had already been leased to a private preschool and the city continues to let missed opportunities slip away.

Silver, one of Albany’s power brokers, insisted the city officials come back with answers, and he proposed several dates until he found one, June 7, that the principals could also attend. He also asked that the Education Dept. send him temporary and alternate sites under consideration by May 24.

“We need solutions down here because it’s not acceptable, because parents want their children in neighborhood schools,” Silver said.

Overall, the waitlist number of 110 is down from 148 a month ago, but the principals of P.S. 89 and 234 both said their lists each would have shrunk by four more if not for the proposal to move P.S. 150 from Tribeca to Chelsea.

P.S. 150 is a non-zoned choice school in which most children live in Lower Manhattan.

In response to the surprise announcement a few weeks ago, the city has allowed incoming P.S. 150 kindergarten students who turned down offers at their zoned school to go to the front of those waiting lists.

Chloe Ching, a parent waiting for a seat at P.S. 89, said she was hopeful when she moved up to eight on her list, but then she was bounced back down to 12 to make room for P.S. 150 parents.

She said she was willing to sacrifice a possible pre-K seat for her 3-year-old in a year if it would help.

“I would gladly give up my seat for my [youngest child] if it meant my five-year-old got into a decent school,” she said.

There are about 15 seats currently available at Spruce Street School, P.S. 89 and Peck Slip School, but the principal of Spruce, Nancy Harris, said she was told not to accept any waitlisted students zoned for other schools, and Ronnie Najjar, the 89 principal, said she was also told to hold off filling up the last few slots.

After the meeting, Gentian Falstrom, director of elementary school admissions, said she would consider making offers for the eight or nine Spruce slots before mid-June.

“We’re going to take a look at that,” she said.

She also told one waitlisted parent, “I hate this, I really do.”

Devon Puglia, a D.O.E. spokesperson, did not explain why there was a delay in offering parents the available seats.

Paul Hovitz, co-chairperson of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee, said the board has been working with a realtor looking for sites below Canal St., but the city needs to move more quickly.

“We do have sites that easily could be ready a year from September,” Hovitz said.

One of these sites could be the new home for P.S. 150, Hovitz said, which would likely reduce the number of families currently looking to move to one of the zoned schools.

Hovitz said for this September more temporary classroom space could be added to the D.O.E. headquarters at Tweed Courthouse.

“These rooms have been split with dividers before,” he said.

The building has four large classrooms that each could be divided in two, Hovitz said, and the other two rooms are smaller, but may be able to be divided too. In addition, Eric Greenleaf, another of the Downtown school advocates, has said there is room on the first floor to add  an additional classroom, bringing the potential expansion to seven rooms.

The Education Dept.’s Puglia said expanding Tweed is not under consideration at the moment.

The classrooms are currently being used as “incubator space” for Peck Slip, which is only taking in two kindergarten classes a year, but will be able to accommodate five when the permanent building opens in 2015.

Gould, who said her family is jammed in a one bedroom apartment Independence Plaza, also told the education officials she was shocked that things were moving so slowly.

“I’m hoping this is just a poker face and things are actually happening,” she said. “I’m floored.”

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5 Responses to Anger builds as school waitlists linger

  1. X-Spruce Street Mom

    Why is nobody talking about all of the empty classroom space at Nancy Harris' Spruce Street School? There are floors of empty classrooms. Spruce school only opened last year and they are moving into the school one grade at a time. So why can't Spruce step in and accommodate these downtown district 2 children?
    Our son was kicked out of Spruce after pre-K because there was re-zoning last year and Nancy Harris could of cared less, even though we live 3 blocks away. Now he has gone to 234 where he has taken another seat away from another child living closer to that school.
    Why isn't Nancy Harris, the principle of Spruce more vocal and helpful to families? Why should so much classroom space that tax payers are paying for just sit in waste and wait while Spruce school 'grows into' there space? Lastly bravo to the principle of 276, Terri Ruyter for speaking out! At least someone in a position of power has integrity and stands up for what is right.

  2. Nobody's talking about the 'floors of empty classrooms" at Spruce because they don't exist, with the possible exception of a middle-school science room with Bunsen burners in each tabletop (can't put elementary kids in there). Also, P94 –look it up — a district 75 school, takes up entire the second floor –maybe you didn't see them. Mainly, why Spruce isn't on the table – and why Ruyter herself isn't bringing it up – is that 10 or so years ago CB1 traded upzoning approval for the 89 Murrary/101 Warren buildings in exchange for a zoned middle school — and Spruce is that promised school (89 Murrary took 8 months to arrive, Spruce took 8+ years). Take that away, even for a charter, and CB1 is embarrassed, and CB1 doesn't like that. Or will be reminded.
    Also, in 2009, more than a few parents disparaged a not-yet-begun Spruce, in no small words, in favor of remaining zoned for PS 234 or being newly zoned for 276, despite it being obvious that Spruce would be a small-zone, model K-8 in a state of the art building, an uncrowded limelight of rising stick. but then, BPC's hired consultants succeeded in influencing one zone proposal to empty PS 89 by zoning it for blocks of non-residential streets — the DOE admitted using bot res *and* non-residential building permits to create the zone when CB1 noticed (I was there). CB1 noted said zoning option unfairly packed 234 to the gills, and so the other proposal later won the CEC2 vote, and loads of reluctant, 234-fan parents were zoned for Spruce. And as Spruce was incubated in Tweed, in 2010, parents pulled their kids out until mid-year as their 234 wait list numbers came up.
    —So while the DOE pukes all over itself as far as planning, seeking to save $ by mayoral decree rather than addressing overcrowding, continuing to be sued by the state for receiving now-unaccounted-for money to reduce classroom sizes that didn't get reduced at all, and mixing their incompetence with unapologetic manipulation of the schedule (why wait till June to announce a plan? Because parents leave for the summer, and complain less, mobilize less, that's why) we should really lay off principals who seek to keep quiet. Should Nancy Harris say "hey, come overcrowd my school?" No way. Ms. Ruyter is the only one to speak up, and it seems right that she does, because they've already shafted 276, — and she probably is doing so with the blessing of the other principals. Once voice works best with the DOE. Notice that the 234/89 principals are mostly silent, despite serious reason to be loud, especially with the DOE's harebrained plan to close 150 (call a duck a duck, right?)

  3. And where is Councilwoman Margaret Chin in all this? Instead of fighting for education as she promised four years ago, she seems to be conspicuously missing in action.

  4. Oh, by the way, Councilwoman Chin sits on the City Council Education Committee.

  5. x-spruce street mom

    Thank you J. Frank for your thorough reply. I do not have the knowledge you have regarding the history of this problem but what is still confusing is this: If Spruce is growing into their school grade by grade and it is to be a K-8 elementary/middle school – why aren't there empty classrooms sitting in wait? From my estimation the school is now up to the 3rd or 4th grade only. What is going on in the classrooms for the higher grades that are not filled yet?
    Who is using them?
    Also, last year my son was one of the 12 or students that were de-zoned in pre-K mid year. We sought the help of Nancy Harris who expressed no interest although we were told by Sheldon Silver's office that they would try to help us if she did. Our group specifically asked Nancy to let us know if any spots opened up. She did not let us know that they added an additional K class which would have easily fit our already integrated kids. Instead this new class was filled with those on the waiting lists – some from the actual as it exists now PS 234 zone where my son now has to go. He walks right past Spruce twice a day to and from school and is still very upset and misses his friends. And the fact that 'they' whoever they are so heartlessly de-zoned Southbridge which is so close to Spruce is a travesty. It seemed like a class war type of thing and they would rather acommodate the fancy Tribecans that live in large lofts that they own, than take in the lowly middle class hard working citizens of Southbridge . The irony is the Tribecans complained to never have even crossed Park Row before or know where Spruce street was! Spruce Street school was ruthlessly pulled out from the very neighborhood it was built for and resides in. What a shame. This should never have been permitted to happen.

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