Solutions for school overcrowding

As The Villager first reported last week, 87 kindergarten-age children in the Greenwich Village school zone do not have classroom seats for September. At this point, where these 4- and 5-year-olds will end up is anyone’s guess.

A Department of Education spokesperson last week told The Villager it was too early to say that the Village-zoned kindergartens would not be able to accept all applicants. He suggested parents could still be considering private schools, and that some would choose Gifted and Talented programs. That’s a pretty big “if” — and it’s simply unacceptable.

We support mayoral control of the schools, though with meaningful parental input. We think, over all, the mayor and schools chancellor have done a good job of raising performance, increasing accountability and improving school safety. Yet, if the city can’t guarantee seats for its students, we can’t deem the mayor’s efforts a success. Far from it.

Community Board 2 and local parents have long made it clear that finding new school space is one of the district’s most pressing needs. Hoped-for spaces at 75 Morton St. and on Pier 40 haven’t panned out, while a planned school at the Foundling Hospital building on W. 17th St. is still a ways from being ready for students.

It’s unclear what the Department of Education is thinking. Does it expect these 87 kindergartners will just disappear? Taxpaying New Yorkers deserve adequate school seats in their zoned school district — and if the space doesn’t exist, then immediate contingency plans must be created.

Maria Passannante Derr, a candidate for City Council in Council District 3 (Greenwich Village/Chelsea and Clinton), called us on Tuesday to offer some of her ideas. First, she suggested, space for kindergartners could be found in former school buildings now being used by nonprofit organizations. For example, The Caring Community on Washington Square North and the L.G.B.T. Community Center on W. 13th St. are located in the former St. Joseph’s Academy and the former Maritime Trades High School, respectively. Of course, it will be up to these nonprofits if they want to open their doors to kindergartners, and up to D.O.E. and local parents if they want to take this route. But at least it’s an idea, and that’s a start.

We want to hear more ideas, such as from, among others, Council Speaker Chris Quinn, who represents District 3, and Yetta Kurland, who is also running for the seat. Right now, we’re not hearing enough proposals on how to solve this kindergarten crisis, specifically, and the district’s overcrowding problem, in general.

Another potential solution could lie in working with local universities, such as New York University and The New School. These schools each could probably find some space in their many facilities for a few dozen kindergartners apiece.

Public-private partnerships — be they with local nonprofit groups or local universities — offer one solution.

There’s also a space in Soho at 30 Vandam St. where the new, private Greenwich Village High School was slated to open, though the opening has been delayed a year due to fundraising issues and the economy. Why can’t that space — more than two-and-a-half floors, with 12,000 square feet — be a temporary answer to the district’s kindergarten needs?

C.B. 2 has been in the forefront of the overcrowding issue, and should continue to be so, working with local parents groups and the local Community Education Council.

The district to the south — including Tribeca and the Financial District — has been better able to solve school overcrowding because it had Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver forcing a resolution of the issue, and development sites where schools were included as part of projects. This sort of development could be done, for example, at N.Y.U.’s Morton Williams supermarket site at LaGuardia Place and Bleecker St.; though almost no projects are getting built now due the economy, when things turn around, there’s no reason a public school shouldn’t be considered at this site.

The solutions might not be easy — but we must find some — and quickly. September is just four months away.