DOE Rejects Plan that Could Ease P.S. 116 Overcrowding

Liz Krueger

December 01, 2011

By Mary Johnson

KIPS BAY — Parents and teachers are angry at the Department of Education for rejecting a plan to help ease overcrowding at a Kips Bay school and vowed to continue the fight despite the setback.

P.S. 116, on East 33rd Street between Second and Third avenues, is currently at 120 percent capacity, advocates said. To keep that number from rising, parents and teachers proposed starting kindergarten classes for P.S. 281, a new school currently under construction, before its building at East 35th Street and First Avenue is ready.

They called for the school to be incorporated into the District 2 zoning for the school year beginning in 2012 even though P.S. 281 won't be completed until 2013. They wanted two new kindergarten classes for the school to be "incubated" at another location beginning next fall. Advocates of the plan said it would allow P.S. 281 to start building a community for the new facility even before it opens.

Parents and teachers from P.S. 116, located on East 33rd Street between Second and Third avenues, are fighting to stop overcrowding at their school. (DNAinfo/Mary Johnson)

"We have a school-wide capacity problem," said Beth Parise, a P.S. 116 parent. "[And] we have the support of everyone."

But in a meeting on Monday, DOE portfolio planner Elizabeth Rose told P.S. 116's principal, Jane Hsu, that the department would not consider incubation for P.S. 281, said Parise, who had been briefed on the conversation.

"It’s been quite frustrating," Parise said about the push for incubation, which has been going on for months.

The department claimed that there was no appropriate site to house the incubated kindergarten classes and there wasn’t enough time to collect public comment about the project, Parise said at a meeting of the Community Board 6 youth and education committee on Tuesday night.

Instead, the DOE proposed that P.S. 116 add another class of kindergartners, raising the number of kindergarten sections from six to seven and thereby creating smaller individual classes, she said.

DOE officials did not respond to requests for comment.

"The common area capacity is going to bust," Parise said.

P.S. 116 does have empty classrooms, Parise said, but that’s because budget cuts forced the school to get rid of teachers, not because there is open space to fill.

Parise said parents have collected hundreds of letters and signatures from members of the community, and concerned parents have spoken at various school rezoning meetings, at times even coming to tears.

"We’re losing these children," Sarah Browne, a mother of four P.S. 116 children, at a Community Board 6 meeting in October. "And that’s why we get so emotional because they’re our children."

Both community boards 5 and 6 have passed unanimous resolutions in support of the incubation, and the Coalition of East Side Elected Officials wrote a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott in October urging him to move the incubation process forward.

"P.S. 116 has been beset by capacity challenges for a number of years now, resulting in frequent kindergarten wait lists, the loss of gifted and talented and pre-kindergarten programs, and class sizes above contractual limits," the letter stated.

The coalition includes City Councilmembers Dan Garodnick and Rosie Mendez, Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Liz Krueger, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Assembly Members Richard Gottfried and Brian Kavanagh.

In addition, Parise said that the District 2 Community Education Council, a school advisory panel, is planning to introduce a resolution in support of the incubation at P.S. 281 during its meeting on Wednesday night.

Such a resolution will confirm that the CEC is ready and willing to do the necessary rezoning work to make the plan a reality for September of 2012, she added.

"I think that [the CEC resolution is] pretty significant," Parise said. "They don’t historically write that many resolutions."

Maxine McIntosh, chair of the CB6 youth and education committee, agreed to write a strongly worded letter to the DOE, urging them to reconsider. Parise said she was also reaching out to the elected officials who signed onto the letter to collect additional support.

"We’re going to fight back," Parise said. "We’re going to fight as long as we can."

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