Meeting at Plymouth Church

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An overflow crowd gathered in Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights to hear about the problem of overcrowding at P.S. 8. Photo by Mary Frost.

Hundreds of parents who attended Thursday night’s meeting about overcrowding at P.S. 8, Brooklyn Heights’ only elementary school, were presented with stark numbers and scant options.

Detailed figures presented by PTA co-presidents Kim Glickman and Ansley Samson show a rapidly building student population that threatens to overwhelm the school.

So many families are pouring into the area that some kindergarteners in P.S. 8’s zone may have to seek placement elsewhere next September – an idea that shocked many in the audience, who said they moved into the zone just so their kids could go to school there. Traditionally, families who live in a school zone are guaranteed a space there.

Last year P.S. 8 was operating at 142 percent capacity, even after eliminating pre-K, Glickman said. “That puts us in the top 10 percent or higher of New York City public schools.”

The problem is only going to get worse, Samson said. Roughly 3,750 new housing units in the school’s zone are already in the pipeline, with completion expected by 2017. Incoming students significantly outnumber outgoing students. “Another 1,750 units have yet to be incorporated into our numbers,” she said.

Using a ratio developed by the School Construction Authority (SCA), this works out to 1,088 additional elementary school children just from approved new housing by 2017 – and this doesn’t take into account the rising birth rate in the zone. It also excludes the proposed Pier 6 towers and the Brooklyn Heights Library tower.

“The PTA is not taking a position on new housing. All we are saying is if you are going to include additional residential housing in the P.S. 8 zone, you need to account for elementary school needs of that housing before you approve it,” Samson said, garnering applause.

Some zoned children could be offered alternate kindergarten placement for next fall, Glickman said. “You should start to research alternate options. That’s not the only solution, but it is a real thing that people need to understand.”

The PTA is looking for short, medium and long term solutions. “We’re here to raise the issue in a public context.”

Samson and Glickman urged parents to sign two online petitions, write letters, and “attend meetings – make your voice heard.”

DOE: Kindergarten decisions made in March

Nothing is off the table, Department of Education (DOE) officials Estelle Acquah (Division of Portfolio and Planning) and Tom Terraco said. Options could include rezoning, moving the fifth-grade class from P.S. 8 to M.S. 8 in Downtown Brooklyn, or in the long run, building new space.

DOE doesn’t make decisions about kindergarten until registration closes in March, however, and parents pushed to have DOE give them some idea of where they stood before that point. Terraco agreed to set aside time at a future District 13 Community Education Council (CEC) meeting to go over registration questions.

Officials weigh in

State Sen. Daniel Squadron spoke about a bill he passed which would allow DOH to use “better numbers in projecting the needs – using building starts, community board numbers.” But that won’t solve the problem, he said.

“There is a lot of work to do. We have to push the DOE, not because they don’t get it, but because they have space crises all over the city and limited dollars. We have to make sure our voice is heard. We got to keep this up at every one of these meetings.”

Assemblymember elect Jo Anne Simon said the size of the gathering was “an amazing scene. It really does demonstrate exactly how important this is.

“Neighboring zones are influenced by school capacity here,” Simon added. Overcrowding at P.S. 8 “will add pressure on nearby schools.”

Councilmember Steve Levin said the overcrowding “will be a significant problem soon,” listing what he called “significant developments in the zone: projects planned or underway at Dock Street, John Street, Pier 6 and Pier 1.

“It’s pretty clear what the numbers bear out,” he said.  “The last option is changing the zone lines. Lots of people moved here, that’s why they decided to invest in the community. It’s a bad idea to shrink the zone because of new buildings going up.”

Doug Biviano, a P.S. 8 parent who ran against Simon in the Assembly primary, urged representatives to work against tax abatements for developers, which he said was the incentive for overdevelopment. He also called for a moratorium of the Brooklyn Heights Library tower until the issue was sorted out.

Parent uncertainty

Parents expressed fears that their children would unable to attend P.S. 8, one of Brooklyn’s educational success stories since the arrival of Principal Seth Phillips.

“We need either another school or to expand P.S. 8,” said one mom, who gave her name as Leona.

She said she worked in real estate. “If the school goes down, the values of everyone’s property in the neighborhood goes down. People ask me, ‘Is it zoned for P.S. 8?’”

Heights resident Marsha Rimler suggested placing a school in the proposed Brooklyn Heights Library tower – an idea which raised some applause.

“Officials and DOE need to meet with the Brooklyn Public Library, they need to read the riot act to the Brooklyn Public Library and the mayor, and it needs to become a public school,” she said. “End of story.”

Another audience member suggested using the space set aside for a middle school at Dock Street in DUMBO for an elementary school instead.

David Goldsmith, past president of the P.S. 8 PTA and current president of CEC 13, suggested the solution to overcrowding at P.S. 8 “will be found in a district-wide plan.” He urged parents to look at other schools in the district. “P.S. 8 is not an island,” he said.

Some parents, however, objected to the idea of having to travel to another neighborhood when they lived right next to P.S. 8.

One mom asked if a fifth-grade class from P.S. 8 could be moved to M.S. 8 until the problem is address. DOH’s Acquah said, “That’s on the table, as everything is on the table.”

Parents also expressed fear that the DOE was not acting proactively enough, and urged DOE to do a pre-enrollment evaluation.

A source who has been working on Downtown Brooklyn’s school capacity issue told the Brooklyn Eagle after the meeting that space at the proposed library development site “can’t be built to meet DOE standards. It doesn’t meet the minimum floor plate requirement. It’s not that large, and it’s triangle-shaped.”

The meeting was held at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights.

Other CEC 13 representatives attending included Ed Brown, Amy Shire and Ed Hagin, as did Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director, Judy Stanton.

Check back for an update to this story.

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