School lottery may be dropped for temporary zoning


By Julie Shapiro

Hoping to avoid a lottery for kindergarten seats next fall, the city may draw temporary zones around each of Lower Manhattan’s elementary schools.

Children entering kindergarten would then be guaranteed a seat in their zoned school, removing some of the uncertainty that plagued the admissions process last year.

“The purpose here is to provide clarity as early as possible to families as to where their children would be registered,” said Elizabeth Rose, director of portfolio planning at the Dept. of Education.

The D.O.E. plans to propose definite zone lines before Thanksgiving, but the zones would likely break out as follows: Children in Tribeca would go to P.S. 234, northern Battery Park City would go to P.S. 89, southern B.P.C. and southern Financial District would go to P.S./I.S. 276, and Seaport and northern Financial District would go to the Spruce Street School.

Rose proposed the temporary zoning at a meeting of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s school overcrowding taskforce Monday afternoon. Most parents on the taskforce said temporary zoning would be preferable to another lottery. The city had to hold a lottery for this fall’s kindergarteners because they did not zone the two new schools — 276 and Spruce Street — which opened this fall in Tweed Courthouse.

The D.O.E. had hoped to draw the permanent zone lines this fall and have them in place for next fall’s admissions process. But the District 2 Community Education Council, a group of mostly parents that has a role in school zoning, said two weeks ago that they needed more time and information before they could draw permanent lines.

Rose said Monday that more time would be helpful from the city’s perspective as well, because many residential buildings Downtown that are planned or under construction will not be occupied by next fall. A permanent zoning plan would have to take those new buildings into account, but including them in a zoning plan next fall would “result in some schools having many fewer children than they can accommodate for this fall, and other schools still being overcrowded,” Rose said.

Monday was Rose’s first time at Silver’s taskforce, where she is replacing John White as the D.O.E.’s representative. Rose has two children in District 2’s elementary schools and already knows Lisa Ripperger, principal of P.S. 234. Although Rose sometimes referred to all of Lower Manhattan as “Tribeca” and admitted that she had a lot to learn about the area, several parents said Rose’s perspective as a District 2 parent as well as a D.O.E. administrator would be helpful. District 2 includes almost all of Downtown, Midtown and much of the Upper East Side.

If the D.O.E. draws temporary zoning lines in Lower Manhattan, they would be in place for at least one year. If the lines changed in future years, students already at the schools would not have to transfer, and their siblings would be grandfathered in as well, Rose said.

Nancy Harris, principal of the Spruce Street School, said she needed answers on kindergarten admissions because she’s starting tours soon for prospective families.

“The urgency is there to have some information more concrete than ‘We don’t know,’” Harris said. “It’s going to be a huge shift if we are zoned, and not knowing where the lines are. And if we aren’t zoned, how does that relate to last year’s process?”

Shino Tanikawa, co-chairperson of the C.E.C.’s zoning committee, said she will support temporary zoning if that is what Lower Manhattan wants. Most people at Silver’s meeting were in favor of temporary zoning, but Tanikawa wanted to talk to additional Downtown parents before making a decision.

A further complication of the kindergarten zoning decision is that it affects who will get preference to enter sixth grade next fall at I.S. 276, the middle school portion of the new K-8 in southern B.P.C. If the schools are zoned temporarily, then those who live in 276’s elementary zone will have priority for entering the middle school, Rose said. If there is a lottery similar to last year, then all students below Canal St. on the West Side and below the Brooklyn Bridge on the East Side would have priority for sixth grade at 276, she said.

Rose predicted that if the D.O.E. instituted a lottery, “you’d have a lot of really unhappy kindergarten parents even while you might be making some group of fifth grade parents very happy.”

Several parents said they heard that I.S. 276 is generating a lot of interest outside of Lower Manhattan, especially because fifth graders can apply to it through a separate admissions process for new schools, rather than through the usual District 2 choice process. All new middle schools accept applications separate from the general choice process, and students may receive offers to both a new school and one that is on their choice application.

“Everyone is going to apply,” said Deborah Somerville, whose son is in fifth grade at P.S. 89. “They have nothing to lose by applying.”

Somerville is in favor of the temporary elementary zones, partly because her home in southern B.P.C. would almost definitely be included in 276’s zone, giving her son and others an improved chance of entering 276’s sixth grade next fall.

But Karen Miller, another fifth-grade P.S. 89 parent, said she would like a broader group of Downtown kids to have preference for sixth grade at I.S. 276 — though she said she would not want to subject kindergarteners to a lottery to achieve that.

Meanwhile, parents with younger children at P.S. 89 are focused on a different issue: continued elementary overcrowding there. This year, P.S. 89 has about 140 first graders in five packed classes with nearly 30 students apiece, far more than the 75 students per grade level that the school ought to have.

To relieve the first grade overcrowding, Anne Albright, a P.S. 89 parent, suggested moving two classes of the first graders into P.S. 276’s new building next fall, starting a second grade there a year earlier than planned. Albright has a third-grade daughter and twins in first grade, and she said she would be willing to have her children split between P.S. 89 and P.S. 276 if it meant that they would all be getting a better education.

“I love 89,” Albright said, but the overcrowding there “is not sustainable. You can’t squeeze these classes down any more.”

Rose said she would discuss the idea with Downtown’s principals.