Parents Battle School Overcrowding

| 14 Jul 2015 | 11:46

Parents fear that an ever-increasing waitlist at PS/IS 276, Battery Park City School, might keep their kids from getting into middle school.

Tammy Meltzer, who is active in parent and community organizations, says defining the problem is simple, but finding a solution isn’t. “The situation is a very simple mathematical equation,” she said. “There are far more families in zones than there are seats in schools.”

PS/IS 276 has waitlists of about 50 students each year, and according to parent Matt Schneider, who is also a school PTA member, the problem is getting worse. He said the zone the school is in is too big to handle the number of families seeking spots for their children.

“The people in charge of solving this issue don’t look at it as a school-to-school basis,” he said. “They do it neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, and at worse, district-by-district basis.”

During the last six years, several new schools have opened in the neighborhood, including PS/IS 276. So, while the other schools used to have long waiting lists in the past, there has been some relief. But lower Manhattan continues to grow more populous, causing even the new schools to experience overcrowding.

Schneider said waitlisted kids have been offered spots in nearby schools, but that didn’t change the fact that they weren’t able to attend the school across the street.

An increase in condominium conversions and additional families moving in has meant little respite in overcrowding at the school, she said.

Allison Schifini is the mother of a child who forms part of one of the biggest grades at PS/IS 276 so far. She said the school accepted more students than it could handle because of the waitlist’s length. Since class sizes are increasing with only a limited amount of shared resources, Schifini said, she fears her son’s education could be hindered at such a young age. She said that if the school continues to enroll students, she is worried that once her son reaches middle school there will not be enough space for him since the school wasn’t designed to hold that many students.

“Parents have been advocating to the DOE, and we thought they were receptive and put things in the capital plan,” she said. “But when it tipped over to (Mayor Bill) de Blasio, it didn’t seem like they had a long-term plan that would fall through.”

School officials declined to comment.

The community has spoken out loudly and often and parents say they are frustrated at an obvious and longtime problem that has yet to be rectified. Meltzer said she feels middle school parents and children are at a further disadvantage since families with younger students typically garner the most attention when they face similar difficulties.

“If you think about it, it’s natural progression,” she said. “If there’s a waitlist for kindergarten, it makes sense that people come and leave. But trying to wait and guarantee that people will leave rather than stay is not a gamble that should be made with children.”

A new school has been approved and is included in the 5-year capital budget for New York State, but the DOE hasn’t found a site for it yet. Until they find one, they cannot rezone the neighborhood to balance out how many students each school can handle.

The DOE has partnered with an architecture program, where graduate students worked on a project to find viable sites to put potential new schools. Now, the department is assessing that list of sites alongside the work they are doing themselves to find an appropriate location.

“Progress is a word that is defined differently by the community than it is defined by a bureaucratic organization like the DOE,” Meltzer said. “Progress from my perspective as a parent would be to build a new school right now. Site it, build it and open it; it’s simple.”