Volume 22, Number 41 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 19 - 25, 2010
Downtown Express photo by Julie Shapiro
There were lines outside P.S. 234 two weeks ago to register for kindergarten. There is not enough space for 61 children who have applied.
P.S. 234 still crowded after all these zoning fights
By Julie Shapiro
P.S. 234 has received 186 applications for 125 kindergarten seats and will hold a lottery next month to decide who can attend school there in the fall.
A lottery is precisely what the city Dept. of Education was hoping to avoid when they rezoned Lower Manhattan’s schools last month and shrunk the zone for P.S. 234. But far more students wound up zoned for P.S. 234 than the city expected.
“I don’t think anybody could have predicted it,” said Elizabeth Rose, director of portfolio planning at the D.O.E.
The city used current kindergarten and first-grade student enrollment to predict the size of next year’s kindergarten class, but that method did not work: P.S. 234 has received 60 percent more applications than the D.O.E. was expecting, Rose said last Thursday after a meeting of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s school overcrowding taskforce.
Parents were skeptical the city could not have predicted the problem sooner.
“It’s hard to believe,” said Mary Hoeveler, a northwest Tribeca resident whose son enters kindergarten in the fall. “These kids are 5. It’s not like they just popped into existence last summer.”
Hoeveler, who is zoned for P.S. 234 and expected her son to have a seat there, said she was frustrated that the long, bruising battles over zoning did not succeed in giving every child a guaranteed seat for the fall.
“It seems like we’re back to square one,” Hoeveler said.
Of the 186 applications P.S. 234 had received from zoned students by last Thursday, 60 came from children who already have a sibling in the school. Those students are guaranteed a seat in P.S. 234, which means that about half of 234’s kindergarten spots will be taken up by siblings.
The remaining 126 zoned students who have applied to the school so far will go into a lottery for the remaining 65 spots, giving families roughly a 50-50 chance of being accepted, assuming no more students apply.
The school will hold the lottery after kindergarten registration ends on March 12 and will notify parents on March 22. The lottery will be random, without regard for geography, so those who live closest to the school will not have an advantage.
Zoned children who don’t get into P.S. 234 will receive priority at three other Downtown schools: P.S. 89 and P.S. 276 in Battery Park City and the Spruce Street School near City Hall. Rose also encouraged parents concerned about not getting into 234 to apply to gifted and talented programs in District 2 and P.S. 150, a Tribeca lottery school where Lower Manhattan children have priority admission. Parents who end up on 234’s waitlist may not find out whether they are accepted into an alternative school until May or June.
It’s also unclear whether Downtown’s other elementary schools will have room to handle the overflow from P.S. 234. P.S. 89, P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School will each accept about 75 students. As of last Thursday, Spruce and 276 had each received about 30 applications, but Spruce Principal Nancy Harris said she knew of at least 40 other families who were zoned for her school and had expressed interest. P.S. 89 had received 35 applications, but once current pre-K students planning to apply were added in, Principal Ronnie Najjar expected to be nearly full by the end of the registration period.
“These numbers are a little scary,” Najjar said at Silver’s meeting.
All of Downtown’s principals urged any parents who have not registered their children to do so as soon as possible.
While the P.S. 234 numbers appear daunting, Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent and overcrowding activist, said some of the families who have signed up will likely move their children to private school or the city’s gifted-and-talented programs instead.
However, after last year’s lottery for kindergarten seats at P.S. 234, there was very little movement on the waitlist, suggesting that not many families who won P.S. 234 seats decided to move their children elsewhere. The school may also have to accommodate families who move to Lower Manhattan over the summer, particularly those with older children who cannot go to the new schools because the new schools will only have kindergarten and first grade.
During the intense debate over school zoning options over the past several months, advocates for both Option 2 and Option 3R argued that their preferred choice would reduce overcrowding at P.S. 234. The District 2 Community Education Council ultimately settled on Option 2, which zones all of Tribeca west of Church St. for P.S. 234. Option 3R would have zoned Tribeca roughly north of Murray St. for P.S. 234, cutting out a piece of south Tribeca but adding in all of east Tribeca.
Rose said last Thursday that picking Option 3R instead of Option 2 likely would not have prevented a lottery at P.S. 234.
“The two options were incredibly similar,” she said.
Dru Gearhart, who lives in east Tribeca and fought for Option 3R, which would have zoned her for P.S. 234, said the high enrollment at P.S. 234 shows that neither of the city’s options was good enough.
“It’s really unfortunate that a zoning debate that so bitterly divided our neighborhood turned out to be completely unproductive,” said Gearhart, whose son will enter Spruce in the fall. “We never had the real data we needed to have meaningful conversation about where the lines needed to be drawn.”