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2,000 soon-to-be kindergarten students on wait lists this year

It’s becoming a New York City spring ritual: thousands of parents sign up their children for kindergarten only to find that the school they’re zoned for is all out of room. This year, the early enrollment period ended with about 2,000 soon-to-be kindergartners on waiting lists, city officials said today.

Those students and their families represent less than five percent of all the city’s entering kindergartners, but they’re not easy to ignore. Last year, parents of wait listed kindergartners staged a protest in front of City Hall, drawing press coverage and a new name for their predicament: the kindergarten crisis. This year, despite the introduction of new schools in some neighborhoods and rezonings, 104 public elementary schools have wait lists, and many of them are more than fifty names deep.

DOE spokesman David Cantor said this year, the department was tracking the problem earlier than in the past in hopes of easing parents’ anxiety. Along with making sure schools are using space efficiently and enrolling kindergarten classes that meet the contractual limit of 25 students, DOE officials are planning to send letters to parents in mid-May, offering a nearby alternative to the wait listed schools.

“Last year the list was fairly large in early May but then it all but disappeared and we feel that more or less we’re on about the same track,” Cantor said.

As in previous years, the traditional overcrowding hot spots have reemerged. Schools in districts 20 and 28 in Brooklyn and Queens have long waiting lists, as do schools in District 2 in Manhattan. The city’s longest wait list belongs to P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, which had 125 zoned children and siblings of enrolled students apply for spots. DOE officials said they planned to cut down P.S. 87’s waiting list by opening a new school, P.S. 452, next fall, creating space for 75 kindergarten students. They also that admissions to the city’s gifted and talented programs would alleviate the demand problem.

Noah Gotbaum, president of the Community Education Council for District 3, said even with P.S. 452 opening, the area isn’t gaining more seats because P.S. 87 is going to shrink from nine to six kindergarten classes next year, with P.S. 452 taking on the remaining three.

“It looks like there’s a much more acute problem this year,” Gotbaum said, noting that last year the major overcrowding occurred at P.S. 87, but now other schools in the district are similarly afflicted.

“We’re still going to be looking at 50 to 75 kids who we don’t know where they’re going to go,” he said. “And next year the problem is going to be worse because there’ll be more students — both based on demographics as well as new buildings coming on line — as well as the schools that have been serving as overflow are now going to be filled up.”

Lower Manhattan, which recently rezoned its schools and saw two new schools open this year to combat overcrowding, still has lengthy wait lists. P.S. 234 has 85 students in line and the two new schools, P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School (P.S. 397), have a combined list of 33 students.

“Last year, with a waitlist of that comparable size, we were opening up six kindergarten sections in Tweed,” said Michael Markowitz, a member of District 2’s Community Education Council. “This year we don’t have six fresh rabbits to pull out of a new hat,” he said.

In Queens, the borough with the most schools with waiting lists, two District 28 schools, P.S. 303 and P.S. 196 have a combined waiting list of 143 students. DOE officials said the city had no plans to build new schools in that district, but would work with the schools’ principals to admit as many students as possible.

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