City mulls bouncing I.S. 89 to make more school room : Downtown Express
Volume 21, Number 3 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | May 30 - June 5, 2008
Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
I.S. 89 students held a social action fair Wednesday, calling attention to many problems including world starvation, teen pregnancy and global warming. Many students are unaware that the city is considering moving the Battery Park City school to 26 Broadway in 2009 to make room for Downtown’s growing elementary school population. One seventh grader’s reaction to the idea: “No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Oh my gosh, are they crazy?”
City mulls bouncing I.S. 89 to make more school room
By Julie Shapiro
A horde of incoming kindergarteners at P.S. 89 could displace I.S. 89, a middle school that shares the building.
To combat overcrowding at the Battery Park City elementary and middle school, the Department of Education is considering booting I.S. 89 to the Financial District. I.S. 89 could move into available space at 26 Broadway as soon as 2009.
The idea was brought up at the first meeting of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s taskforce on school overcrowding last week. Silver convened the meeting after P.S. 89 and neighboring P.S. 234 announced record pre-enrollments for next fall’s kindergarten classes.
Ellen Foote, principal of I.S. 89, said some options have been considered and dropped, but the school relocation idea remains under consideration. She’s concerned that I.S. 89’s move would leave Battery Park City and Tribeca without a middle school. Eighty percent of I.S. 89’s students come from below Canal St. , and half of those come from Tribeca and Battery Park City.
“The neighborhood has to consider whether they really want to lose a middle school in this area,” Foote said.
Many I.S. 89 parents and students oppose the move.
“I think [I.S. 89] should stay here,” said Larry Weiss, father of an eighth grader, as he stood outside the school on Warren St. “This is out of the way, more in the neighborhood. It’s a more homey feeling.”
I.S. 89 is close to Weiss’s home in Battery Park City, whereas a school in the Financial District would be more of a trek.
Foote said she needs more information about 26 Broadway, former headquarters of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company, before deciding what she thinks of the move. She added that plans would depend on whether the projected growth at P.S. 89 materializes.
If pre-enrollment numbers are an indication, both P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 are looking at a sharp increase in students over the next several years. P.S. 89 is preparing for 140 incoming kindergarteners, while P.S. 234 could have 180 to 200, including 31 children currently on the waitlist. To keep classes under the union limit of 25 students, P.S. 89 is planning on six kindergarten classes, up from four last year, and P.S. 234 is planning on eight.
“The facts are clear: Downtown is expanding residentially at greater numbers than anywhere else in New York ,” Silver told reporters after his taskforce meeting.
Even with the two new schools on the horizon — Site 2B in Battery Park City will open in September 2010 with 600 elementary seats and the Beekman school will open in 2010 or 2011 with 630 elementary and middle seats — Lower Manhattan will still be short nearly 1,000 elementary school seats, Silver said. That number comes from the Downtown Alliance’s construction figures and a city guideline suggesting one elementary seat for every 10 new residential units constructed.
To address overcrowding in Lower Manhattan and other District 2 neighborhoods, the D.O.E. released a blueprint earlier this month that hints at moving I.S. 89 to 26 Broadway. In fall 2009, the Urban Assembly School of Business for Young Women will move from E. 12th St. into 26 Broadway. The Urban Assembly school will use 453 school seats in the building, which will leave room for another 250 middle school seats, according to the D.O.E. If the middle school seats don’t go to I.S. 89, they could go to a new middle school or a middle school that feeds into the Urban Assembly school.
Alisa Allen, a seventh grader, shrieked when she heard that the D.O.E. was considering moving I.S. 89.
“Oh, no,” she said, extending her arm and wagging her finger. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Oh my gosh, are they crazy?”
I.S. 89 is a convenient location, near the subway and buses, beside park and field space, not to mention Barnes & Noble, Allen and her friends said.
“No one wants to be in the Financial District,” added Nicola Gomez, another seventh grader, licking an ice cream cone. “The ice cream truck is right here. The people at the deli are our best friends.”
Some P.S. 89 parents were excited to hear about the possibility of taking over I.S. 89’s space — “It’s a great idea,” said Laura Margulies, walking her third-grade son home from school — but others are worried that P.S. 89 would get too big if it expanded to fill the space.
“I’d rather not expand the school such that it loses its character,” said Claudia Bogdanos, a P.S. 89 parent. “One of the things I really like is that the principal seems to have a handle on every child in the school.”
The D.O.E. blueprint focuses more on solutions for fall 2009 than for fall 2008.
“We think the schools will be able to operate within their existing facilities [this fall],” said Andy Jacob, spokesperson for the D.O.E. He said the D.O.E. would not know the extent of the overcrowding until the schools finalized their enrollment in September. When asked about the record pre-enrollment this year, Jacob said the schools do not yet know for sure that all those students will attend, implying that the D.O.E. is hoping more students than usual drop off the list.
Parents, though, expect the pre-enrollment lists to grow even longer as new residential buildings open Downtown, particularly at 101 Warren St. and 200 Chambers St. , which cast shadows over P.S. 89 and 234.
Several parents said the District 2 blueprint understates the problems schools face. They are skeptical that the 2008-2009 year will go smoothly, but they agree with the D.O.E. that the bigger problem lies further ahead.
“Things will be very tight for 2008,” said Eric Greenleaf, father of first-grade twins at P.S. 234. “But for 2009, there’s no way that the current schools can house the students.”
The blueprint suggests that schools strapped for space this fall close their music, art and science rooms and increase class sizes before looking outside the school for additional space.
Once the school closes the science and art rooms, Greenleaf wonders what will be next.
“Will they close the library?” Greenleaf asked. “Will they put kids in the gym? Obviously that’s not good education…. Are they going to start wishing kids into the ether?”
Bogdanos, though, said she did not mind converting P.S. 89’s art room into a classroom and bringing the art instruction to the students.
“The funding is not there for such grandiose art projects in the first place,” Bogdanos, the P.S. 89 parent, said. “To give up the art room for a couple years is not a tragedy.”
The least popular suggestion the D.O.E. made in the blueprint was to bus fifth graders from P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 to schools with vacancies in District 2, including Lab High School on 17th St. and I.S. 131 in Chinatown .
“That was crap,” said Mariama James, a P.S. 234 parent. “No one wants fifth graders to be bused.”
Many parents do not work near their children’s schools, so it is important for the schools to be close to home, so the parents can drop off and pick up their children, James said. She recalled the panic on 9/11 of not knowing if her children were safe, and said that it would be even worse if her kids had been in an unfamiliar neighborhood far from home.
Borough President Scott Stringer weighed in on the busing at Community Board 1’s meeting Tuesday: “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” he said. The board met Stringer’s remarks with applause.
Greenleaf said uprooting fifth graders will create unnecessary stress. “By time they’re in sixth grade, they’ve changed schools three times in three years,” he said.
If the schools do have to send fifth graders away, they should find space as close to the school as possible, Greenleaf said. At Silver’s overcrowding meeting, people suggested that P.S. 234 use classroom space in Manhattan Youth’s new Downtown Community Center , adjacent to the school. Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, has agreed to consider donating the space.
“I would hate to have to use community space for another purpose,” Greenleaf said. “It is attractive in some ways…but it depends how dire the circumstance are.”
Dennis Gault , outgoing president of the P.T.A. at P.S. 89, would like next year’s fifth graders to move into Stuyvesant High School, adjacent to P.S. 89. His daughter is in one of three fourth grade classes this year, which house a total of 72 students. P.S. 89 only has room for two fifth grade classes, so next year Gault’s daughter could be in a class of as many as 36 students. That would exceed the union limit of 32 students.
For additional spillover space, P.S. 89 students may be able to use the Cove Club condo building in Battery Park City . The Battery Park City Authority rents space in the Cove Club for the B.P.C. Parks Conservancy but will vacate it by early 2009, said Jim Cavanaugh, president of the authority. The conservancy will move into the Visionaire, a new condo building that is under construction, freeing up the space for school seats while also increasing the demand. The D.O.E. still has to check if the space is suitable, Cavanaugh wrote in an e-mail to Downtown Express.
The idea of trailers came up at Silver’s meeting, but it looks unlikely that schools will use them, said Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1. Trailers are expensive to outfit with electricity and plumbing, and Menin heard that the D.O.E. only installs trailers if they will be in place for at least five years.
Lisa Ripperger, principal of P.S. 234, declined to comment for this story. Ronnie Najjar, principal of P.S. 89, did not return calls for comment.
Anna Grossman, mother of a 4-year-old who will enter P.S. 234 in fall 2009, thinks the D.O.E. could solve the overcrowding problem by starting Lower Manhattan ’s two new schools immediately, in rented space. The city could decide on the zoning for the new schools well in advance of their projected opening, and then form pre-K and kindergarten classes for fall 2009, Grossman said. That would relieve the pressure on existing kindergarten and pre-K programs, buying time until the new schools open.
“The most important thing is small class size and that kids stay in neighborhood schools,” said Grossman, who runs the Hudson River Park Mothers’ Group.
The D.O.E. is weighing the community’s suggestions and will return to Silver’s taskforce on June 13 for an update.
If city administrators want to know how parents feel in the meantime, all they have to do is check their mail. Nicki Francis, mother of a kindergartener at P.S. 234, launched a postcard campaign this month targeting Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. She printed 8,000 postcards urging them to “Say no to school overcrowding.” Parents and students personalized and signed the postcards and mailed them in.
“It should not be such a fight to have a place for our children to go to school,” Francis said. “It’s pathetic. Mayor Bloomberg should have his tail between his legs — he should never have let it get to this point.”
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