Volume 22, Number 41 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 19 - 25, 2010
Cleaning up a little of the school mess
After months of divisive fighting to determine Lower Manhattan’s new school zones, it turns out the new zoning plan that was only supposed to last a few years, is inadequate the first year. Many parents will once again throw their children’s fate up to the fates in a school lottery.
Four weeks ago when we gave a marginal nod to one of the zoning options under consideration, we emphasized that the biggest problem was the city had no information about where Downtown’s incoming kindergarteners lived. We were hoping the city’s enrollment guesses based on the past were in the ballpark, but obviously they weren’t.
P.S. 234, the most popular school, has already received kindergarten applications from 60 more students than the school can hold. Clearly both options that were sanctioned by the city Dept. of Education did not shrink the P.S. 234 zone as much as it needed to be. An unusually high number of the incoming 2010 students have siblings in the school with a guaranteed seat, so there is less room for the zoned students. The city could have and should have known this beforehand.
There will be a lottery to determine who gets into P.S. 234 this year and it is not yet clear if there will also need to be one at P.S. 89, Spruce Street School, or P.S. 276. As we have said before, all four of these schools are good and parents shouldn’t feel like they have lost if they do not get their first choice.
But in the interim there will be extra months of uncertainty and all but certain confusion. It’s possible the numbers will be a little less daunting in a few months if a high number of applicants move away, or enroll in other public or private schools, but these factors didn’t change things much last year. And of course the problem could get worse if more families move Downtown or if more than expected enroll between now and the March 12 deadline.
One thing that should be done immediately to help relieve the situation is to increase the number of students admitted to P.S. 276, which opens in its new home in southern Battery Park City this fall. The school will have 200 more seats than Spruce, yet both schools are slated to accept about 75 students this year. Surely 276 can take an extra kindergarten class now without jeopardizing school space in the future, particularly since the city is confident that smaller Spruce will be alright even with extra kindergarten classes two years in a row.
Adding more space at 276 will mean more parents will get their first or second choices. Many Gateway Plaza parents wanted to be zoned for 276 instead of 89 anyway, and if more of them send their children to 276 it will free up space at 89, only a block away from P.S. 234.
Hopefully the city will learn from these two years of semi-chaos in the application process. Serious planning and information gathering needs to be done much sooner. The education department has already said these new zoning lines will not last more than a few years, and now we don’t even know about next year. Middle school zoning is a much more complicated question that also needs to be examined after this year’s applications. In the meantime, open up P.S. 276 a little more and see if there is anything else that can be done to lessen this year’s problems.