As the final school bell sounds at P.S. 199 on a recent Monday, parents scatter around outside the school’s long gates on W. 70th Street, trying to gather their children, who are still shuffling around inside the playground.
While these parents are trying to get their kids out of the school, getting in P.S. 199 is tougher than ever.
In a West Side version of a growing citywide problem, demand for kindergarten slots at the school now far outpaces available seats, infuriating parents who live in the school’s zone, but nevertheless are being told their children likely won’t find a slot.
“Every year, the wait list keeps getting longer,” said Andrew Davis. “I don’t understand why they didn’t plan ahead for this problem.”
Davis and his wife Laura Schiller have started a petition to advocate for making space for all zoned kindergarten children for the 2015-2016 school year. Davis said 94 kids were announced on the waitlist as of April, and that he now has more than 200 signatures on the petition.
The number of siblings who get automatic priority have doubled since last year, and now 57% of children who applied without siblings didn’t get a spot.
“This is a crisis,” reads the petition, which is addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Carmen Farina. “It is devastating to a community when a school can’t accommodate this large a portion of their residents. Families can’t live in an area where they can’t plan their children’s education.”
Another father, Brian Goldstein, said there a number of solutions to the problem, but that eliminating a classroom, which is what the school has done, isn’t one of them.
“When your waitlist increases, removing a kindergarten class doesn’t seem to be the smartest thing to do,” he said, chuckling. “It kind of defies logic.”
Similarly, Schiller said if classes have actually reached full capacity, it is the school’s job to find an alternative space in their zone.
“After we had kids five years ago, we decided to stay in the neighborhood only because of the school,” she said. “We lived in small apartments, paid high mortgages, rents, and taxes all because we thought we would have a spot. And now that we don’t, it’s very heartbreaking.”
According to Goldstein, some people have been using fraudulent addresses or have been renting studios near the school just to get their kids in. And when their kids finally do get in, they either stop using the address or stop renting the studio. He said the school needed to have more comprehensive means of validating people’s addresses.
“No one is asking for anything that is unreasonable,” he said. “But we feel that P.S. 199 is our school and according to the chancellor’s regulations, it is their job to accommodate the people of their zone.”
Davis and Schiller both said that the success of P.S. 199 is what has created the clamor for admission.
“We know the school is special, and we don’t want to compromise the quality of the education it provides,” Schiller said. “We just want the opportunity to find solutions.”
In the petition, parents have asked that the kindergarten classroom that had been cut be reinstated, and that schools officials meet with parents to discuss some kind of solution.
“The lack of transparency of this decision, and the failure of the DOE to come up with a short-term strategy has shifted the burden to families,” the petition reads. “The consequences are being placed on the shoulders of our four and five year old children.”
To read the parent’s petition, go to change.org and search for PS199