Volume 22, Number 24 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | October 23-29, 2009
Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert
This year’s kindergarten students at P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School entering Tweed for their first day of class last month. Many of them were placed there as part of a random lottery. Downtown parents had hoped there would be school zones established for next year, but there may be a lottery again.
Kindergarten lottery may return Downtown this year
By Julie Shapiro
Downtown children could once again face a lottery for kindergarten seats.
The Dept. of Education planned to zone the neighborhood’s new elementary schools by the end of this year, with lines based on geography and children guaranteed a seat at one of the new or existing schools. That would have been clearer and more uniform than what happened this year, when the city divvied up kindergarten seats by lottery without regard for geography.
But the District 2 Community Education Council, a group of mostly parents elected by P.T.A.’s, said they do not have enough time to come up with a good plan, so zoning should wait an additional year.
“We want to do things right,” said Shino Tanikawa, co-chairperson of the C.E.C.’s newly formed zoning committee. “Zoning is not something we want to embark on every three years.”
The C.E.C. will need until at least April to decide on zoning lines for Lower Manhattan along with the rest of District 2, which stretches through Midtown and the Upper East Side, Tanikawa said. That will be too late for next fall’s admissions, which means another year without zones for Downtown’s two new schools, P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School, which opened this fall with kindergarten classes in Tweed Courthouse.
“The C.E.C. is doing this carefully, but it’s a shame for Downtown,” said Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent. “The sooner these zones can be set, the sooner people will know where their kid is going, the sooner parents say, ‘Okay, this is my local school — let me get behind it and support it.’”
The C.E.C. has more than an advisory role in zoning decisions, but it is unclear whether they can essentially veto the city’s planned timeline. Will Havemann, D.O.E. spokesperson, acknowledged that the C.E.C. was going in a different direction than the city had envisioned, but he said, “The C.E.C. has a job to do and they want to do the job well. We’re committed to supporting them.”
Havemann added that even if the zoning lines don’t get drawn in time for next fall’s admissions, the city will make the process clear and transparent.
“No one wants to repeat last year’s process,” Havemann said.
What happened during this fall’s admissions was that more kindergarteners applied to P.S. 89 in Battery Park City and P.S. 234 in Tribeca than the overcrowded schools could handle. The application procedure also changed midway through. Children were selected for the schools via lottery, and the extra children were sent to the two new schools.
If there is a lottery again for next fall, it is possible that students who live closer to the schools would get preference, something that did not happen this year.
The reason the C.E.C. needs more time to figure out Lower Manhattan zoning is because the city has not given the parents the population and enrollment data they need, said T. Elzora Cleveland, C.E.C. president.
Tanikawa added that the C.E.C. also wants to do its own independent analysis of the numbers, because the D.O.E.’s data “can’t be trusted.”
Havemann did not comment on the C.E.C.’s concerns about the data.
Some members of the C.E.C. also have another point of disagreement with the city. P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School have long been expected to serve only Lower Manhattan children (on the elementary level) who live below Canal St. on the West Side and below the Brooklyn Bridge on the East Side.
But at a C.E.C. meeting last week, some members said they thought the new schools would have extra space, so they could also serve children from other neighborhoods.
“It’s highly likely [the schools] are going to be shared,” Cleveland said in an interview after the meeting.
“That was shocking to me,” said Tricia Joyce, a P.S. 234 parent. She and Greenleaf have used population data to project that the new schools won’t be big enough to solve Downtown’s long-term overcrowding problems — let along big enough to cover other neighborhoods.
After Joyce made this point to Tanikawa at a Community Board 1 meeting this week, Tanikawa said she agreed that Downtown’s schools could not take in children from other neighborhoods.
Regardless of how the city decides to do kindergarten admissions for next fall, Anna Grossman, director of the Hudson River Park Mothers’ Group, thinks there will be less anxiety than this year because the new schools are getting positive reviews from parents, who are excited about the specialized curriculum and small classes. Perhaps parents won’t feel as desperate to get their children into P.S. 89 or P.S. 234 next fall and will embrace the new schools instead, Grossman said.
Eric Wallace, a Battery Park City resident whose oldest son will likely enter kindergarten next fall, said P.S. 276 is his first choice, so he doesn’t have a strong preference about whether zoning happens this year or next. Wallace said he got excited about the southern B.P.C. school after joining a parents’ message board.
“Not only is it a beautiful school,” Wallace said of the green building, which will open next fall, “but it’s convenient, and a great community is forming already.”