Downtown schools’ Plan B: Lottery system

By Julie Shapiro

If more children want to attend kindergarten at P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 than the buildings can hold next fall, the city will use a lottery to decide which kids get seats, the Dept. of Education announced Thursday.

The children who do not get a space in P.S. 89 or P.S. 234 will go to one of the two new schools opening in Lower Manhattan: P.S./I.S. 276 in Battery Park City or the Spruce Street School. The buildings for the new schools are not yet ready, but the schools will open with just kindergarten classes at an incubator in Tweed Courthouse next fall.

“If [P.S. 89 and P.S. 234] have more applicants…than they have seats, they will randomly assign children,” said Marty Barr, executive director of elementary enrollment at the D.O.E. “Where in the zone [the children live] will not matter.”

Barr spoke at a meeting Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver convened Thursday with parents, D.O.E. officials, including Chancellor Joel Klein, and the principals of Lower Manhattan’s new and existing schools.

The crowd of parents appeared surprised by Barr’s pronouncement, as the D.O.E. previously said they would give priority at P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 to children who live near the schools, while children who live near the new schools will be more likely to be assigned to the incubator. Prior to Thursday’s meeting, some parents who live near the new schools thought their children had little chance of attending the existing schools, but it now appears that everyone, regardless of geography, will have an equal shot.

As parents filed out of the meeting, several sounded concerned that the lottery for seats would make it more difficult for the new schools to form a community, since their populations could draw students from all around Lower Manhattan.

Barr said a lottery was the only sensible way to select students, since it is too early to draw the final zones for the two new schools. The zoning will depend on the families that move into buildings now under construction, so it makes sense to wait at least until next year to zone, Barr said.

A temporary zoning plan this year also had the potential to set up a block-by-block fight between parents hoping to stay in the catchment area of P.S. 234 or P.S. 89.

Kindergarten enrollment is currently open and lasts until March 2. Parents can apply to either their zoned school or either of the two new schools, and they can also rank a first and second choice.

Silver’s meeting attracted about 100 parents, along with another 30 who were turned away because of fire codes. After getting an overview on the new schools and the admissions procedures, the parents walked over to Tweed Courthouse for a private tour of the incubator space, currently occupied by the Ross Global Academy. The Chambers St. building also houses the D.O.E. headquarters.