Downtown 'K' Registration Soars as City Rejects Plea for Added Seats

At last year's P.S. 276 Winter Fair, strollers lined the sidewalk outside the school, a sign of the many siblings who will be entering the school. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Feb. 28, 2014

No change of heart.

That was the word from a De­partment of Education official, who told Downtown school advocates last month that despite their pleas the city is going ahead with the Bloomberg administration's original plan to build fewer than half the number of school seats below Canal Street that community leaders say are needed.

The city has budgeted one new 456-seat school below Canal Street as part of a five-year spending plan that is up for approval on March 18 by the Panel for Educational Policy.

“We were not able to add additional new seats into any of the districts," Elizabeth Rose, director of the DOE’s Office of Public Affairs, told Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s School Over­crowding Task Force.

Silver himself had asked Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña for an amendment to the plan that would at least double the number of seats for Downtown, especially for the Financial District and Battery Park City.

The announcement followed reports at the meeting by several Downtown principals that kindergarten registration was higher this year than last, foretelling even longer wait lists at those schools, though the numbers are far from final.

The most severe shortage of seats is at P.S. 276 in lower Battery Park City, where Principal Terri Ruyter said that 157 children in the school’s zone are applying for 100 seats. With 37 of those children guaranteed seats because they are siblings of current students, about half of the remaining chil­d­ren would be left without seats.

Nancy Harris, principal of P.S. 397, the Spruce Street School, said she will have a wait list for the first time. With zoned siblings taking up 26 of the available 75 seats, based on current registration figures, there will be 63 children in line for the other 49 seats.

Eighty-six zoned children registered for the 50 kindergarten seats at the Peck Slip School—now temporarily housed in Tweed Courthouse—that is opening in its permanent home in 2015. Last year, 60 had applied.

With the latest birth figures released recently, future projections appear to be getting worse. According to a presentation at the meeting by Diana Switaj, Community Board 1’s director of planning and land use, even with the opening of the new 456-seat school in the city’s capital plan and the Peck Slip School, there will still be a major shortage of seats. Switaj projected that in 2018 there will be 550 kindergarten seats for nearly 800 kindergartners in the CB1 district.

“It means a lot fewer people sticking around if they don’t have any place to send their kids to school,” Switaj said.

Paul Hovitz, co-chair of CB1’s Youth and Education Committee, echoed a recent resolution passed by the board that calls on the DOE to avoid funding universal pre-K at the expense of “pressing school needs.”

“I’m not saying universal pre-K is not a good idea but it seems that the priorities are kind of confusing,” Hovitz said.

“It’s a very big system,” Rose re­plied, “and there are lots of competing needs.”