Bad news for residents of Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO — there are no new schools planned for the area, despite parents’ recent campaign for a new middle school, Chancellor Klein told the Brooklyn real estate blog Brownstoner in an interview published today. For the most part, the interview focuses on the issues of supply and demand of school seats in the booming neighborhoods of brownstone Brooklyn. In Brooklyn Heights, PS 8 has grown so popular that it must house its pre-K program in portable trailers, and in Park Slope, PS 321 is so crowded that district leaders have begun to contemplate the prospect of making the school’s zone smaller. Throughout Brooklyn, parents and politicians are complaining that construction of residential units outpaces the creation of new school seats, leaving classrooms packed.
Another pressing issue for Brownstoner’s readers, many of whom are homeowners in areas of Brooklyn where development is happening rapidly, is where to send their kids for middle school. Unsatisfied with the middle school options in District 13, many parents at PS 8, as well as middle-class families throughout the district, currently choose to send their children to private middle schools or schools in other districts. Earlier this year, developers hoping to improve their chances of getting approval to construct a residential tower in DUMBO proposed allocating space for a new middle school in the building, and City Council member David Yassky briefly led a quixotc bid to locate a middle school inside the Brooklyn House of Detention. But Klein tells Brownstoner that because District 13 schools are, in aggregate, operating under capacity, there are no plans to create new schools in the area.
Klein does note that in the next round of capital planning, which will begin in July 2009 and account for construction through the year 2014, the School Construction Authority and DOE will for the first time look at demand within districts when deciding where and when to build new schools. This could augur relief for popular schools in underenrolled districts.
Unfortunately for families, the DOE’s most recent strategy to battle overcrowding has been to limit principals’ flexibility to admit students from outside their zone. In fact, the kindergarten admissions process that will take place during the upcoming school year, for entrance in the fall of 2009, is the first in which enrollment will be handled centrally by the DOE’s Office of Student Enrollment Planning and Operations, or OSEPO. In the Brownstoner interview, Klein echoed the strategy contained in the DOE’s recently released plan for District 2 overcrowding, saying that OSEPO will work with PS 8 to reduce the number of out-of-zone students, thus eliminating PS 8’s need for portable classrooms.
Along with discussion of charter schools and the ongoing saga of the budget cuts, the interview contains a few details I had never heard before, such as the actual number of students the DOE has determined to have been wrongly denied seats in pre-K programs (120) and the number of school spots estimated to be needed for each new residential unit constructed in the city (less than one).
But the really interesting stuff is in the comments, where Brownstoner readers grapple with questions of equity, the effects of gentrification on schools, and what constitutes quality in education. One commenter nails Chancellor Klein for avoiding the issue of school quality entirely. “The problem is there are too few QUALITY schools anywhere, and the situation for middle schools is acute,” the commenter writes. “What is [Klein] going to do to increase the number of QUALITY schools…?” Others ask: “I think the most pressing and important question is HOW do we make the low-performing schools better? It’s not just more money. How do we infuse those schools and their children with cultural capital?” And: “Are [middle-class] parents going to send their kids into Bed-Stuy or into the projects to one of these traditional schools, where kids wear uniforms and stay for mandated long school days?” These are important questions, and ones to which I’d like to hear Chancellor Klein’s responses.