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A new bill would make kindergarten enrollment projections public

As dust settles on a months-long school rezoning battle in Tribeca, State Senator Daniel Squadron said he would introduce a new bill today that would force the Department of Education to give community leaders more information before they sit down to draw new zoning lines.

Standing outside the epicenter of that zoning battle, P.S. 234, Squadron said members of the parent council for District 2 had been asked to chose a rezoning plan — but hadn’t been given any information about how many kindergarten students to expect. As a result, P.S. 234 still has too many new students zoned for it, leaving families to take their chances in a lottery.

Shino Tanikawa, a member of the Community Education Council for District 2, said DOE officials gave the council numbers for how many kindergarten and first-grade students are enrolled in Tribeca schools, but not projections for how many were coming down the pipeline.

“We kept asking for enrollment projections and the number they had was an aggregate number based on historical trends,” she said. “For the actual zoning we had to do, there was nothing.”

Squadron’s bill is based on recommendations in Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s report on school overcrowding. It would require the Department of Education to consider the birth rate and population projections coming out of the departments of Health and City Planning when making its own projections.

But the city is already using this data in its calculations, according to Department of Education spokesman Daniel Kanner.

“The SCA [School Construction Authority] already works closely with the Department of Health and the Department of City Planning in developing its annual projections,” Kanner said.

Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent and district parent council member who has studied the city’s projections, said there are wide discrepancies between the city’s data and what Tribeca is experiencing.

“In the past, the city has employed consultants that said total growth over 10 years would be 10 percent. Down here we’ve seen that sometimes in one-year,” he said.

To deal with the overcrowding caused by a post-9/11 baby boom and real estate development, the city opened two new schools in Lower Manhattan this year: P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School (P.S. 397). These schools opened a year ahead of schedule, in a temporary space in the department’s headquarters.

“What we’re concerned about now is that it looks like kindergarten registration and enrollment for next year is going to exceed the capacity of all the downtown schools, including the new schools, which means even before they open the schools are overcrowded,” Greeleaf said.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, said Squadron’s bill is a good first step toward easing overcrowding but needs “considerable strengthening.” Haimson said an independent body such as the city comptroller should comb through the enrollment projections as a check on the DOE’s methods.

The bill is being introduced today into the State Senate where neither Democrats nor Republicans have a voting majority, making it difficult to pass any legislation.

New York, NY — State Senator Daniel Squadron, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, other elected officials and public school parents announced legislation today that would help prevent school overcrowding and improve long-term planning for New York City schools. Senator Squadron’s bill, based on recommendations from a report by Borough President Stringer, will include mechanisms for more accurate student population projections, more transparency and feedback in planning and a stronger voice for parents and the public.

The bill will include:

  • More accurate projections: DOE will be required to consider birth-rate projections from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and population projections from the Department of City Planning when drawing school districts and zoning lines and when constructing its five-year capital plan.
  • Transparency in planning: school siting plans will have to make public the data used to project student populations, and DOE must address how each siting plan responds to projected population changes.
  • A stronger voice for the public: DOE must make public all comments it receives in response to its school siting plans and five-year capital plan, and must respond to those comments.

State Senator Daniel Squadron said, “When planning is off, communities suffer — that’s why we need better data, more transparency and a stronger voice for the community in school-seat planning. These changes would offer more tools to prevent overcrowding and improve long-term planning for our schools. I would like to thank Borough President Scott Stringer for his powerful report on our school overcrowding problems and his recommendations for how to address them.”

“My office has released three reports revealing the ways DOE fails to alleviate school overcrowding and plan for the future,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer. “Tens of thousands of Manhattan students will be without school seats by 2016 unless we do something. Having neighborhood schools with enough space for their young children is often the determining factor in the decision families make to stay in our city. I applaud Senator Squadron for introducing legislation that will bring school planning back to reality.”

“Kindergarteners weren’t born yesterday, so by the time they’re old enough to go to school, there ought to be enough time to plan adequate space in our schools to educate them,” said Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh. “The legislation proposed today recognizes that planning ahead and involving public school families and the public in the process, are the surest ways to alleviate the overcrowding that makes it harder for our children to learn in many schools throughout the city.”

“School overcrowding is an inexcusable offense, especially in a city as resourceful as ours,” said Tricia Joyce, a parent of two students in public school. “Packing 30+ children into a room with one teacher, lunch at 10 am or 2pm, one or no weekly gym periods, in a building never meant to be a school is not the way to support our children or the teachers that have devoted their lives to teaching them. It’s time to reverse this course and re-establish our priorities so our children can not only survive, but thrive into our leaders of tomorrow.”

Senator Squadron will introduce the bill in Albany tomorrow.

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