Space Squeeze for New District 3 Primary School

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Despite the urging of District 3’s Community Education Council, the Department of Education said it was not possible to increase the number of grades at P.S. 452, a new school slated to open in the I.S. 44 building on West 77th Street in fall 2010.

The department is planning to start three kindergarten classes at the school, but the parent council wants that number increased to five. The move, the parent council argues, would help ease pressure at nearby crowded schools, especially P.S. 87 and P.S. 199, both of which are far above capacity. The department, however, shot down the proposal, saying at an impassioned Feb. 24 meeting that I.S. 44’s facilities could not support any more children.

Per department guidelines for any significant changes to school buildings, the Panel for Education Policy will have a final hearing to approve the new school April 13.

When P.S. 452 opens this fall, the I.S. 44 building (above) will house a total of five schools. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

The new school would at least temporarily share space with four other schools: the Anderson School, which will shrink from three classes a year to two; the Computer School; J.H.S. 44, which is being phased out; and West Prep Middle School, which is expected to relocate in September 2011. Elizabeth Rose, a representative from the department’s office of portfolio planning, stressed at the meeting that the new arrangement would be a tight squeeze.

“Even though we relocated West Prep to another facility, the school’s capacities don’t change,” Rose said. “We can’t open five kindergartens. Three is the maximum capacity we can fit in this building.”

P.S. 452 is not accepting direct applications for the 2010-2011 school year. Families are being instructed to apply to their zoned school and once the March 12 deadline for kindergarten applications passes and schools process new students, the department will work with the parent council to decide how P.S. 452’s seats should be distributed.

Deborah Lopez, a parent with a child at Anderson, agreed that though demand far outstripped supply, the department should limit the number of P.S. 452 classes to three.

“The new school is welcome in this building,” she said. “But please understand that five schools is a lot of schools in this one building and children in all the schools are going to be affected.”

Lopez worried that the arrangement would adversely impact children’s access to the gym, libraries and the playground.

But many other parents were dissatisfied with the plans, and accused the city of not doing enough to address population growth and subsequent school overcrowding.

“The new school is a stop-gap measure, but it is not really stopping any gaps,” said Noah Gotbaum, chair of the parent council.

He noted that that while 75 families would have access to the new school, there would still be at least 200 other families who won’t be able to send their kids to zoned schools this coming school year.

“Parents deserve to get elementary seats in the zone where they live, or where their kids go to school,” he said.

One idea that has been floated is to relocate the Anderson School, a gifted program that has citywide admissions and could, in theory, be sited anywhere.

But the department rejected the idea of moving Anderson, which was previously housed on West 84th Street with P.S. 9.

“Our recent actions in District 3, including the relocation of the Anderson School, have resulted in a significant gain in elementary school seats for the district. We believe the Anderson School is currently in a facility extremely well suited to the needs of its students and the community, and it would not be productive to move the school twice in such a short period of time,” said Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, a department spokesperson, in an email.

Eric Shuffler, who is looking for a kindergarten spot for his child, said the overcrowding issue is an “insult to parents.” Marcy Drogin, a prospective parent at P.S. 87, added it was “unacceptable” that the school was crowded and demanded there be enough seats at P.S. 87 to serve all local families.

“I would say that parents have grown weary of the DOE’s opaque processes, poor planning and short term solutions,” said Beth Servetar, co-president of the Parent’s Association at P.S. 87, which functions at 120 percent capacity.

Gary Anthony Ramsay, a former NY1 reporter and prospective P.S. 199 parent, was annoyed at the department’s suggestion that parents be patient, should their child be waitlisted at a school.

“In this economy, no one is going to move away or put their kid in a private school,” he said. “This is our version of the Titanic,” he continued. “The iceberg has already hit the ship—when are we going to make things happen?”

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