Projected Shortage of Kindergarten Seats Called 'Bleak'

Eric Greenleaf presents his projections on school crowding to Community Board 1's Youth Committee.

CARL GLASSMAN/TRIBECA TRIB

Eric Greenleaf is the bearer of bad news once again.

For more than four years, the NYU Stern Business School professor and Downtown parent has been accurately predicting an alarmingly growing demand for classroom space in Lower Manhattan elementary schools—demand he says that is being unmet even by the three new schools that have opened since 2009. In his latest report, presented on Tuesday, Oct. 9, to Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee, he called the near future of kindergarten enrollment “bleak.”

“By 2013 there will be a total shortage of at least five and likely six classrooms,” Greenleaf said. “That’s 125 to 150 kids that there isn’t room for in the schools.” Looking ahead to 2014, Greenleaf said the picture gets worse, with 250 to 300 more children than classroom seats.

“We’re facing a shortage that’s as big as the entire Spruce Street Elementary School,” he said, referring to the school at 12 Spruce St. that opened just last year.

Greenleaf detailed his ominous projections for each of the five zoned elementary schools within Community Board 1. He painted the most dire picture for P.S./I.S. 276 in lower Battery Park City.

“Overcrowding at 276 has met our worst fears,” Greenleaf said. The school, which opened a fifth kindergarten this year against principal Terri Ruyter’s objections, will have no space for kindergartners next year without eliminating its pre-k program or science and art rooms, Greenleaf said. And by 2014, he added, the school will be five classrooms short. 

“There are kids who have siblings there right now who there won’t be room for,” he said.

Ruyter issued her own "overcrowding study" that agrees with Greenleaf's analysis. "With the addition of 5th grade in the 2013-2014 school year, we will officially not have enough classrooms for preK-[8th grade] enrolled students," she wrote. "The time is now to develop short- and long-term solution[s]."

Here is a summary of Greenleaf’s report on the four other zoned public elementary schools within Community Board 1. The Trib asked the principals of the schools as well as the Department of Education to respond to his analysis.

• P.S. 89. The school is completely full, Greenleaf said, and “things are going to get worse” with the opening of two new large apartment buildings next to the Battery Park City ball fields as well as the opening of Riverhouse. In an email to the Trib, Principal Ronnie Najjar said the school will continue to have three classes per grade, as was originally intended for the building. Some classes are "underenrolled" according to the DOE's maximum allowable class sizes of 32, she said. As for the new buildings, "Riverhouse has been open for five years, and the buildings on the field opened a year ago. We already have many children from those three buildings in the school."

• P.S. 397, the Spruce Street School. Greenleaf projects that in 2013 the school will be short one classroom and four classrooms the year after that. “What happens at Spruce then? The middle school is threatened as well as pre-k, science and art.” Principal Nancy Harris did not respond to an email request for comment.

• The Peck Slip School. “Believe it or not, it is not likely to have enough room for next year,” Greenleaf said of the just-opened school that is incubating with two kindergarten classes in Tweed Courthouse. He expects the school to reach its capacity of 50 students this year, and given the anticipated growth Downtown, it will be out of space in 2013. “Here we have a school in incubation—overcrowded,” he said.

 

"I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that we get 50 [students] and we'll just have to accommodate the kids that we get," Peck Slip Principal Maggie Siena said in a telephone interview. The school has six classrooms and it may be possible to borrow one of the empty ones next year for a third kindergarten, she said. "But that's where the real space issue would come up. If we have three kindergartens next year [plus two first grade sections] then we're using five classrooms right there." In addition, she said, there could be too few students for three sections to fund a third teacher.

•  P.S. 234. The school opened a sixth kindergarten classroom this year in order to accommodate waitlisted children at P.S. 89. But Greenleaf said it cannot sustain that number of kindergarten sections. "P.S. 234 is also not likely to have enough room next year,” he said. Principal Lisa Ripperger said she did not want to comment.

All together, Greenleaf said, the number of available kindergarten classrooms in the six Downtown schools (including P.S. 150) in 2015 would barely accommodate the children expected to enroll in those schools just next year. This is in spite of the Peck Slip School opening that year with five sections per grade.

 

The DOE, which has repeatedly said it does not determine its analysis of capacity on a school-by-school or a community board basis, declined to respond to Greenleaf's projections for individual schools. “We are on track to meet the growing demand for school seats in Lower Manhattan, and will create an additional 700 seats at the Peck Slip School opening in 2015,” DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said in an email. DOE officials have also said that P.S. 1, a school on Henry Street in Chinatown, has enough extra capacity to handle the overflow from Downtown schools.

 

But Greenleaf and other Downtown school activists continue to insist that the city needs to fund two new schools to take care of an additional 600 children. He claims the Bloomberg administration is committed only to stopgap measures, such as converting art and science rooms to general classrooms and closing pre-k programs.

"They are hoping they can squeak through 2012 and 2013,” he said, “because in January 2014 there’s a new mayor, and then it’s that mayor’s problem.”