New York Times: At Some New York Schools, Wait Lists Grow Longer
By Jennifer Medina
Published March 23, 2010
It was once an unspoken social compact — move to the right school zone and your child was guaranteed a spot in the right school.
But for the second year in a row, hundreds of families throughout the city will receive letters telling them that their children have been placed on a waiting list for their local elementary school.
The lists are longer this year at some schools on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side in Manhattan. Public School 87, on West 78th Street, has space for 130 kindergartners, and 111 children are on the waiting list. Across Central Park at Public School 290, 91 students are on the waiting list, nearly as many as the school admitted.
Michelle Hankin, who moved to the Upper East Side shortly before her daughter, Sydney, was born, was among the first in line at P.S. 290 when kindergarten enrollment began in February. When she called the school on Monday, she learned she was No. 62 on the waiting list. A school official told her it was unlikely that students that far down on the list would be reached, Ms. Hankin said.
“I am trying to find out what I am supposed to do and what our options are, but I really feel helpless,” she said.
Public officials and parents say the increased demand at some schools is driven by a mix of new buildings, families deciding to stay in the city rather than move to the suburbs, and economic decisions to pass on private schools.
Generally, schools with more applicants than seats use a lottery, though most give preferences to students with siblings already at the school.
Jessica Lappin, a city councilwoman from the Upper East Side, said the waiting lists appeared to be significantly longer than they were at this time last year. For example, P.S. 290 had three dozen students on its list by the end of last March. “We’re still seeing results of a building boom in the area, and you have more parents choosing to stay in the area but not being able to afford private school,” she said. “As the week goes on, people are going to start to be more and more upset.”
Other schools with long waiting lists include Public School 183 and Public School 6 on the Upper East Side, each with more than 50 students, and Public School 199 on the Upper West Side, with 47 students.
The phenomenon is not restricted to schools in the wealthiest neighborhoods. In Brooklyn, some schools in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge have waiting lists, including 57 students at P.S. 105 and 47 at P.S. 169. Waiting lists have also become the reality in Corona, Queens, where middle-class immigrant families have moved in large numbers. Roughly 120 students in the neighborhood are on the waiting lists for four schools — P.S. 28, P.S. 143, P.S. 89 and P.S. 14.
Maura Keaney, the director of external affairs for the Education Department, said that children on a waiting list would be offered a spot at another nearby school by the middle of May. Two new schools with 75 kindergarten seats each will open this fall in existing buildings in District 2 and 3 in Manhattan, and could absorb some of the children. Ms. Keaney added that children could stay on the waiting list at their neighborhood school even if their parents accept the alternate placement.
“We understand that for those families, this is a time of real anxiety,” Ms. Keaney said, “but we know that some of the waiting lists will shrink and some of them will go away completely” as many students are accepted into gifted programs or choose private schools.
Parents and officials on the Upper West Side have said for months that schools there would face serious overcrowding unless the city opened up a new school building. “It’s just hitting us like ton of bricks, but there were people who predicted this months ago,” said Gail Brewer, a city councilwoman.
But Education Department officials said that school buildings in the district as a whole were underutilized and that student enrollment should be distributed more evenly by changing local school zones.
Those decisions are made by the elected Community Education Councils in each district. The councils, which are made up of parents, are generally careful about zone changes because the issue is sensitive, though the District 3 council made some changes last year.
The department also indicated on Tuesday that high school admission letters could be delayed because of a lawsuit filed by the United Federation of Teachers and the N.A.A.C.P. seeking to overturn plans to close several high schools. (Selective schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science have already notified students of acceptance.)
This month, a judge ruled that the city should not distribute final high school admission decisions because it did not give students the option to choose schools that it proposed to close.