P.S. 198, at 96th Street and Third Avenue, received 243 applications for 50 available kindergarten seats in 2018. Local leaders are hopeful that the city’s plan to add additional elementary school seats on the Upper East Side will reduce overcrowding and result in more students attending their school of choice. Photo: Jim.henderson, via Wikimedia Commons
The city aims to add 640 new public school seats on the Upper East Side as part of its upcoming $17 billion five-year school capital plan.
Plans for expanding the neighborhood’s school capacity appear in the School Construction Authority and Department of Education’s proposed capital plan for fiscal years 2020-2024. The 640 Upper East Side seats are among the 2,794 new seats the plan calls for in School District 2, which includes the Upper East Side, Midtown, Chelsea and much of Lower Manhattan.
An SCA and DOE spokesperson did not comment on whether the city has identified potential sites for the 640 new seats. But Council Member Ben Kallos, who advocated for the agencies to expand school capacity in his Upper East Side district, said that the added seats will most likely be located in a new school.
“My preference is for one large school,” Kallos said, adding, “Based on the work I’ve been doing with the SCA to find a location for this school, I believe that there will be a site large enough to accommodate all 640 seats, if not more.”
The 640-seat Upper East Side project will cost an estimated $92.85 million, with an expected completion date of March 2025, according to the proposed capital plan. The city hopes to start design work by Sept. 2020 and begin construction by Dec. 2021.
District 2 as a whole is slightly below its full enrollment capacity, but elementary schools in the portions of the district represented by Kallos and his Council colleague Keith Powers — encompassing the East Side from roughly 14th to 96th Streets — are overcrowded, operating slightly over combined capacity as of the 2016-2017 school year.
Kallos is hopeful that the new seats will reduce overcrowding, allow more students to attend their school of choice and offset future capacity needs resulting from new residential projects in the neighborhood.
“I see cranes wherever I look,” Kallos said. “We literally have multiple buildings on 86th Street going up on the same block. The Second Avenue subway has brought with it a new construction boom and our neighborhood is already at 102 percent capacity. This is about building for the future.”
According to DOE estimates, work will have begun on over 24,000 new residential units in District 2 by 2024, the highest total of any school district in the city. But despite the projected housing growth, DOE expects a slight enrollment drop of 1.4 percent in District 2 for pre-kindergarten to eighth grade over the next decade — a result of DOE’s formula for projecting future enrollment, which assigns District 2 the city’s lowest expected pupil contribution rate for new housing units. Overall pre-kindergarten to eighth grade enrollment in Manhattan is expected to drop nearly 14 percent over the same period.VYING FOR AVAILABLE SEATS
A DOE report mandated under legislation sponsored by Kallos shows that kindergarten applications at many East Side schools substantially exceed the number of available seats. P.S. 151 the Yorkville Community School, on East 88th Street, for example, offered admission to 120 kindergarteners in 2018 after receiving 316 applications for 75 available seats. During the same admissions cycle, 243 prospective kindergarteners applied to P.S. 198 the Straus School, vying for 50 available seats (the school offered admission to 122 students).
“I saw a lot of children being turned away, which is why I’ve been pushing for these additional seats,” Kallos said, adding that parents often turn to private schools when their children don’t receive offers from their preferred public schools. “I want to have such amazing public schools and such amazing facilities that parents are choosing our public education system over the best private schools in the world,” he said.
A DOE and SCA spokesperson did respond to inquiries regarding whether the agencies tracks the number of students who opt to attend private schools after not receiving offers to their public schools of choice, or whether enrollment projections account for localized housing trends within school districts. “The SCA takes extensive measures to create accurate projections about future seat needs for districts, including a demographer who provides projections,” the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.
The proposed school capital plan for 2020-2024, which will be submitted to the mayor and City Council for adoption later this year, allocates $7.88 billion toward creating nearly 57,000 new seats citywide. Roughly 23,000 of the seats were originally funded in the previous five-year capital plan. The plan includes 88 new school facilities, five of which will be located in Manhattan. According to City Council analysis, the majority of the seats, including the new Upper East Side school, are projected to be completed between 2025 and 2028, after the last fiscal year of the proposed capital plan.
Under the current capital plan, the city opened two new pre-kindergarten facilities on the East Side in 2018, with another on East 76th Street scheduled to open in fall 2019, for a total of more than 400 new pre-kindergarten seats.
“The SCA is dedicated to providing all children with access to high quality school facilities and will continue to innovatively design and construct much needed seats throughout the City,” Lorraine Grillo, the president and CEO of the SCA, said in a statement.