The number of New York City schools with kindergarten waitlists dropped by nearly 25 percent this year, according to the city’s Department of Education (DOE). But that offers scant comfort to the 50 families whose young children have been put on a waitlist for P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights.
According to figures released Tuesday by DOE, overcrowded P.S. 8 has the largest number of waitlisted kindergarten-aged children in Brooklyn. Second on the list is P.S. 39 in Park Slope, with 34 kids on the waitlist.
Families zoned for the Heights elementary school have become increasingly unsettled as numerous residential developments have swelled the district’s population of school-age children. Pre-K has been eliminated and the school is considering cannibalizing specialty rooms to cram in more kids.
“I am beside myself,” one mom wrote on a Facebook page set up for waitlisted families. She wrote that she had moved to Brooklyn Heights specifically so her child could attend P.S. 8.
State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Councilmember Stephen Levin, and Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon released a joint statement this week castigating DOE for failing to deal with the school’s overcrowding, despite “repeated warnings” over the past year.
“Last year we worked with the community to urge the Department of Education to engage on the issue of overcrowding at P.S. 8, so that together we could plan for the future and avoid a real crisis for neighborhood families,” the statement reads in part.
“Unfortunately, DOE did not respond to the repeated warnings and calls for action all of us made, both privately and publicly. This week, zoned, eligible families are receiving last minute rejections from P.S. 8, and DOE has no plan in place to fix the problem going forward.”
DOE rejects the accusation that the news was “last minute,” and says the department went out of its way to warn parents that the situation was brewing.
“Over the past few months we’ve made outreach to families around the expected zoned waitlists at P.S. 8,” said DOE spokesperson Harry Hartfield.
Hartfield listed two public meetings with parents and representatives of DOE and another meeting between the Office of Enrollment, District Planning, Space Planning and the School Construction Authority and the school’s PTA presidents.
Hartfield also said DOE had held conversations with elected officials prior to offers going out about the school’s waitlist.
PTA warned this would happen
Overall, kindergarten statistics in New York City are improved over last year, Chancellor Carmen Farina said in a statement.
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of students who received one of their first choices and a decreased number of schools with waitlists,” she said. “This is a great step in the right direction and we’ll continue working to best serve all families.”
Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn, however, are in the midst of an unprecedented building boom.
P.S. 8 PTA co-presidents Kim Glickman and Ansley Samson sounded the alarm about the school’s overcrowding at numerous forums over the past year, highlighting the fact that thousands of additional residential units are still on the drawing board.
Last year P.S. 8 was operating at 142 percent capacity, even after eliminating pre-K, Glickman said at a November meeting.
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.
Some kids will be headed to P.S. 307, not quite a mile north of P.S. 8 in Vinegar Hill, while the PTA continues to push for medium- and long-term solutions, a parent said.
Several P.S. 8 parents said they’ll be advocating for P.S. 307 as well as P.S. 8.
“One upcoming opportunity is Councilmember Levin’s participatory budgeting vote this week,” said one P.S. 8 mom, who told the Eagle that she’ll be voting for P.S. 307’s proposal to renovate its library. (P.S. 8 will host participatory budgeting voting this Friday from 8-10 a.m.)
DOE’s Hartfield said that every family who applied to kindergarten received an offer at some school, and that the situation is still in flux.
“It’s worth noting that waitlists fluctuate for a variety of reasons (students enroll in a Gifted & Talented program, go to private or parochial schools, move away, etc.) and we anticipate that many families will get offers from schools where they are waitlisted.”
The pre-registration deadline for kindergarten in New York City is Wednesday, May 6. Parents may receive an offer from a school where they are waitlisted anytime between now and October. Families can also contact other schools of interest directly to place their children on the waitlist.