New York Times: School Waiting Lists Raise Manhattan Parents' Ire
Parents are venting their frustrations in e-mail messages and phone calls to the mayor, local politicians and the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein ("You have unleashed the fury of parents throughout this city with your complete lack of preparedness," read one father's recent missive, which he shared with The New York Times). Some plan a rally on the steps of City Hall for next Wednesday afternoon ("Kindergartners Are Not Refugees!" proclaims a flier), and some are taking it upon themselves to scour the city for potential classroom space.
The outpouring of anger comes as state lawmakers consider whether to renew mayoral control of the city school system, which expires in two months, and Mr. Bloomberg is seeking a third term in part on his education record.
"I got a call from Mayor Bloomberg's campaign about yadda yadda yadda was I going to vote for him," said Beth Levison, a documentary filmmaker whose son is No. 79 of 90 on a combined waiting list for Public School 41 and Public School 3, both in Greenwich Village. "As a parent who has a child with no place to go next year, no indication of where he's going to go next year as a result of the mayor taking control of education, I said absolutely not.
"You would think that Bloomberg, who is a businessman, knows how to manage inventory like this," Ms. Levison continued. "My kid isn't just a bottle of vodka, but this is about inventory."
Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, whose district includes Greenwich Village, said it would not help the mayor's cause to have the debate take place amid this "very tense circumstance."
"If people believe that the core mission is to have a seat in a local school where there is a reasonable class size," she said, "people are going to say, regardless of the P.R. campaign, there need to be changes."
The Department of Education would not say how many schools had waiting lists or how many children were on them, explaining that officials were still reviewing the information that principals in Manhattan were required to submit earlier this week (principals in other boroughs must do so by Friday). But parent advocates and public officials in pockets throughout the city said that they had heard more complaints this year from panicked parents told that there may not be seats for their 5-year-olds at their neighborhood schools.
The notion of a waiting list for students living within a school's zone is not unprecedented; last fall, 34 schools outside Manhattan capped their enrollment, turning away neighborhood children. But this year, after a change in city policy to standardize kindergarten admissions and encourage registration earlier in the year, the waiting lists seem to have proliferated, making their way into Manhattan neighborhoods where parents often make expensive real estate decisions with a specific public school in mind. And parents fear that the lists reflect not just the new policy but also a surge in demand, fueled by an increase in young families and an economic downturn that makes private schools less appealing.
David Cantor, the chancellor's press secretary, said that schools previously had grappled with supply and demand in an ad-hoc way, and that the Bloomberg administration's approach was fairer. Children still on waiting lists at the end of June will be offered slots at other schools in their district (there are 32 across the city). Their names can stay on the lists through the summer in hopes that spots open up. City officials expect lists to shrink as some students choose gifted and talented programs or other options.
Before, Mr. Cantor said, "students remained on wait lists without a school unless a parent knew how to navigate the system."
"This administration's position is that equity of access and transparency for every parent is essential," he added. "This year, for the first time, we stepped in to quantify wait lists, assist schools in managing their wait lists, and will ensure that children have a placement offer by the end of June."
In some lower-income areas, public officials are concerned about a city budget cut that is sending some 3,000 children from day care centers funded by the Administration for Children's Services to public kindergartens.
But the epicenter of the outrage is Manhattan's District 2, particularly the Upper East Side and the Village, where new condominiums have lured young families. The district's Community Education Council estimates 400 children are on waiting lists at a dozen schools.
"We feel desperate," said Ben Allison, a bassist and composer whose daughter, Ruby, is on the P.S. 41 waiting list. "We're calling up N.Y.U. to say, 'Can you provide a space for us? Maybe you can clear out some classrooms and create an annex.' "
Then there are the parents of children zoned for Public School 151. That school, on East 91st Street, has been closed for nearly a decade. The Education Department promised to reopen it this year because of the space crunch, but has yet to secure a space.
Jacalyn Filler, whose son is supposed to be in P.S. 151's kindergarten this fall, wrote to Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Klein and the federal education secretary, Arne Duncan, criticizing what she called "bureaucratic foot-dragging, lack of focus and high-handed attitude displayed by D.O.E. officials."
"Mr. Mayor, you are spending a good chunk of money on TV ads where you tout New York as 'a great place to raise a family,' " she wrote in the letter, which she shared with The Times. "How can you make this claim with a straight face, given the current crisis?"
Rebecca Daniels, president of the District 2 council, said parents were frustrated because they had warned the Education Department that this could happen, and were skeptical as to whether slots were handed out fairly by lottery as the city required.
"These parents are questioning everything and everybody, and it's putting them in a position that they don't want to be in," she said. "Parents shouldn't be sitting here pitted against one another when their biggest concern is telling their 4- or 5-year-old why they're not in kindergarten."
City Councilwoman Jessica S. Lappin, who represents the Upper East Side, said she had heard from distraught parents, including some whose children have spots in neighborhood schools but worry about overcrowding.
"The mayor has said repeatedly, the buck stops with me, and so has the chancellor," she said. "These parents should hold them accountable."