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A Brooklyn school wins the right to stay open, but must shrink

Teachers and parents from Canarsie's P.S. 114 carried signs at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting where the board was set to vote on the school's closure.

Teachers and parents from Canarsie’s P.S. 114 carried signs at a Panel for Educational Policy meeting where the board was set to vote on the school’s closure.

Threatened with closure when their school’s test scores sank, parents and teachers at a Brooklyn elementary school quickly mobilized their local elected officials in their defense. The plan worked. At the last minute, the city pulled its proposal to close the school.

But not a month later, PS 114 parents and teachers are wondering exactly how much their school was saved. That’s because they’ve learned that the Department of Education plans to slash the school’s enrollment by roughly 200 students in the next three years to accomodate a new charter school. The charter school, Explore Excel, was originally supposed to help replace P.S. 114 as the school was slowly closed.

Currently, P.S. 114 enrolls 754 students in kindergarten through the fifth grade, but its enrollment has been on the decline. Last year, it had 844 students and the year before that, 887.

With a new charter school slated to open in the building next year, Department of Education officials have decided to trim the student enrollment further to make room for the new school to grow.

“It’s kind of like they’re phasing us out even though they’re not using that word,” said Jimmy Orr, the vice-president of the school’s parent association and the father of two P.S. 114 students.

According to the city’s Educational Impact Statement, in the next three years, P.S. 114’s enrollment will shrink from 754 students to 530-575. At the same time, the Explore Excel Charter School will grow to serve 336 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

As P.S. 114 becomes smaller, its budget will also shrink — an issue that has parents worried. P.S. 114 is already in debt to the Department of Education because of a former principal who continued to spend even as student enrollment declined. When she finally left the school, it was $180,000 in the red. As a result, the school has shed teachers and tutoring programs in order to pay the city back.

To decrease the size of P.S. 114’s student body, the city will only allow the school to enroll students from within its zone. Currently, less than half of the students zoned for P.S. 114 go there — a statistic school officials draw on as proof that parents don’t want to send their children there.

But Orr said that if the city gave P.S. 114 the art and music programs that often attract parents, student enrollment would not be on the decline.

“Give us the money that can turn our programs around and we won’t be losing students to charter schools,” he said.