• Kindergarteners denied gym time.
• Kids getting speech therapy in a former closet.
• Gym locker and shower rooms now used for administration.
• Some kids getting lunch at 10:30 a.m., some at 1 p.m., because 1,000 students must share common space built for 700.
• Indoor recess held in the auditorium, at the same time as music or science classes in the same auditorium.
This is just a sample of complaints reported by parents at an October 2009 Community Education Council public hearing focused on crowding in District 3 elementary schools. At that meeting, the Department of Education assured parents that despite widespread complaints, there was in fact plenty of capacity. According to the department, roughly 1,500 seats were empty and available to accommodate new students.
The parent council disputed the department’s conclusions and appointed a fact-finding team to quantify these gut feelings. The team included representatives from the most overcrowded schools.
We reviewed relevant department data reports, toured schools with an eye toward classroom use and collaborated with PTA and other parent representatives from each school. We reviewed historical enrollment to project one-, two- and three-year demand; analyzed the impact of new residential development on student enrollment; analyzed all enrollment by district and zone residency; identified enrollment details of choice schools; and analyzed the impact of projected sibling enrollment.
The data team found that the parents were right. Each of the schools in the study area, from West 70th to 97th streets, were at or above capacity. The most crowded was P.S. 87, at 121 percent capacity. For three schools in close proximity to one another (P.S. 199, P.S. 87 and P.S. 9), the annual growth rate of students living in the catchment area was in the double digits for the past three years. We looked at projected enrollment for these three schools and found that they could not accommodate the 100 to 150 extra students projected to enter the public school system next year. And they certainly could not accommodate the many more children expected in 2011 and 2012.
By mid-December, the department reviewed our numbers and, using its own methodology, projected capacity in these schools of 200 to 300 seats for next year. It was great that they had come down from 1,500 seats, but we challenged their methodology again. According to our methodology, and assuming a kindergarten classroom size of 20 to 25 students, four to six additional kindergarten classrooms are required for the 2010-2011 school year.
Just recently, the department pulled a 180 and agreed that there is demand for classroom seats. Officials have announced a plan for a new K-5 school that will have three classes (“sections”) of 25 kindergarteners each, for a total of 75 new students in 2010. The school will add a new grade each year. The department plans to locate this new school in the O’Shea building on West 77th Street, right in the heart of the most overcrowded schools.
The parent council was pleased to vindicate concerns in the southern part of the district using hard facts. It’s also critical that we continue to get agreement on hard facts in the northern part of the district. We believe the deleterious impact of overcrowding cannot be overestimated and we’re glad that parents listened to their guts, and that we were able to back them up. The data proved that parents were right all along.
Rachel Laiserin is a P.S. 87 parent and Helen Rosenthal is the former Chair of Community Board 7.
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