At Start of School Year, Parents, Educators and DOE Grapple with Wait Lists

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By Lillian Rizzo

P.S. 234's principal, Lisa Ripperger, has been dealing with the same problem for the last three years: having enough space for incoming kindergartners. With an overcrowded school and a growing population, Ripperger starts each year placing kids in neighboring schools or creating seats in her own. But it doesn't stop there; she also makes sure students are providing correct addresses.

"I've taken it upon myself to check addresses. I've staked out apartments," said Ripperger at a Community Board 1 meeting. "I can't afford to be that easy with seats."

As the population south of 14th Street grows in places, spaces in kindergarten classrooms at schools like P.S. 234 decrease.

P.S. 234 isn't the only elementary school in the area with a wait list problem. P.S. 89, only blocks away, had a wait list of about 10 to 12 children this spring.

"We had a very small wait list, but we were able to place kids in the school," said Connie Shraft, parent coordinator at P.S. 89. Shraft said the list most likely shrank because of kids moving into gifted programs or private schools. In the end, P.S. 89 was actually able to open up 10 seats for wait-listed kids from P.S. 234.

The lists shorten when children presumably move or switch to private schools. This year, there were 38 children on P.S. 234's wait list during the spring and summer. By Sept. 8, all of them had been placed at P.S. 276 and P.S. 89, both in the same zone as 234.

"Registers cleared and seats opened up as part of the normal process, and we are happy most parents got their preferred outcome," said Department of Education representative Frank Thomas in an email. "But when students are wait-listed, we are obligated to provide them alternate offers, as we did in this case."

For Ripperger, the major feat was not sending any children to P.S. 130 in Chinatown, because it is outside of 234's zone.

Wait lists are increasing, showing signs of overcrowding in elementary schools. Ripperger is trying to prevent raising the maximum number of students in a class, 32.

"We are starting to see the cumulative effect of years of overcrowding without the DOE addressing it," said Shino Tanikawa of the Community Education Council.

The DOE has begun combating overcrowding in classrooms with the addition of new schools, including the Spruce Street School, which just opened, and the school at the site of the Peck Slip Post Office. Peck Slip is scheduled to open in 2014, but will soon start taking students in the Tweed Courthouse at 52 Chambers St.

But Eric Greenleaf, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, doesn't think either will be enough. The marketing professor, who has been on P.S. 234's PTA and served two years on the Community Education Council, has calculated that by 2014, classrooms will be so overcrowded that these two new schools will make little difference.

"Before Peck Slip opens I predict there will be a wait list [there]," said Greenleaf. He suggested the DOE and the city must look at how quickly downtown is growing in order to project how many seats will be needed. The solution? Build more schools and keep families in Downtown Manhattan.

"Unfortunately, overcrowding scares people away, they move to the suburbs and it hurts the city's tax base," said Greenleaf.

In the meantime, the PTAs, principals and the CEC aren't the only ones bracing for a hectic September each year. Local day cares are providing parents with support and information long before their children are ready for kindergarten.

"I do warn parents that there may come a day when there will be wait lists for those schools," said Denise Cordivano, the head of the Battery Park City Day Nursery. "They should not take the space for granted and they should get involved with the overcrowding issues."

The majority of the families at Battery Park City Nursery are zoned for either P.S. 89 or P.S. 276. "We hold meetings in the spring and fall with our parents to discuss kindergarten options," said Cordivano. "I post notices regarding community meetings and send emails encouraging parents to attend."


No More Wait Lists? DOE Makes Rezoning Plans

Elizabeth Rose, of the Department of Education, presented proposed rezoning maps for Lower Manhattan schools at a Community Education Council (CEC) meeting in late September. The maps, which are likely to be finalized by December, will be subject to public hearings at which parents can voice their opinions on the proposed delineations. Upcoming CEC school rezoning plan hearings will be held Oct. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 158, 1458 York Ave., and again on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 11, 320 W. 21st St.

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