P.S. 234 tightens enrollment rules

By Josh Rogers

P.S. 234 — Tribeca’s overcrowded, high-performing school that real estate brokers include in ads — is taking extra steps this year to prevent ineligible students from registering.

“Everybody is raping and pillaging to get in here,” a beleaguered Lisa Ripperger, the school’s principal, said in a brief telephone interview. The school is at 120 percent capacity and in recent years, has ended its pre-K program and closed its science room to accommodate the growing population.

In order to prove residency in the school’s zoning area, prospective P.S. 234 parents must bring a bank or credit card statement with an address, a current rent or maintenance bill, and a current Con Edison bill when they come to register at the Greenwich St. school between March 12 – 22, according to the school’s Web site. The three pieces of address proof are two more than is required, according to the city Dept. of Education’s site.

In addition, P.S. 234 is not allowing parents to bring any alternative documents for those who do not have a bank account, credit card, rent or maintenance bill. Those without a Con Ed bill are being asked to bring up to four pieces of address proof.

Leonie Haimson, founder of Class Size Matters, a city parent group advocating for smaller classes, said she sympathizes with P.S. 234’s difficulty keeping the crowding down, but said the bank or credit card requirement is “excessive” and probably wouldn’t hold up in court.

“I know there are not many poor people living near the school,” she said. “I’m sure there are some. I would think that’d be open to a legal challenge. I don’t see why Con Ed isn’t enough….

“Two thirty-four has always been considered one of the most desirable schools to get into …although there always seemed to be people who did not live in the district who managed to get their kids in.”

A P.S. 234 secretary called Downtown Express a few weeks ago to request the paper run a news item about the upcoming registration, as the paper has done in the past. The secretary said Ripperger wanted the Express to direct readers to the school’s site, ps234.org, to get documentation details, since they were going to be more extensive this year. When asked if the school minded if the paper mentioned that more documentation would be required, the secretary passed the call to Ripperger, who insisted that no documentation information be published. She said the Web site would give parents all of the information that was needed.

In response to a question, Ripperger said she had no objection to the paper publishing the school’s phone number for parents without Internet access.

“This is Tribeca,” she said. “I doubt anyone living in this neighborhood doesn’t have Internet access, but that’s fine to put the number in case anyone has questions.”

Two large moderate income housing complexes, Independence Plaza North and Southbridge Towers, are zoned for P.S. 234 as are several “80-20 buildings,” where 20 percent of the apartments are set aside for low and moderate income tenants. Residents of Tribeca, the Seaport and much of the Financial District are guaranteed slots in P.S. 234, under the school zoning.

City Councilmember Alan Gerson said P.S. 234 officials have told him Con Ed bills are easy to fake so he was not surprised to hear the school was looking for other documentation. He said he didn’t believe the school would enforce a credit card or bank statement requirement.

“The people in the school are well-intentioned,” he said. “There certainly has to be some way of verifying residency.”

Ripperger did not return a call Wednesday for further comment.

Gerson said the school’s situation underscores the school crowding problems at P.S. 234 and the rest of Lower Manhattan. Gerson negotiated a deal with the city in 2005 to build a P.S. 234 school annex in exchange for his support for two high-rise residential development projects near the school. Officials hope the P.S. 234 annex will be ready to open by September. The 126-seat center near the school would allow P.S. 234 to restore its pre-K program and move kindergarten classes out of the main building, clearing the way for more students in first through fifth grades.

P.S. 234, perhaps wary of all of the annex construction still needed to be done, is not planning pre-K classes for September.

Gerson said he is confident the construction will allow a September opening.

“We’re going to make sure it does open,” he said.