Local School’s a Lottery for Long Island City Kids

An artist’s impression of the new I.S/H.S 404 in Hunter’s Point (Credit: FXFowle)

Despite the opening of two new Long Island City schools in September 2013, many parents fear they will still have to look beyond their local community for their child to be educated. An abundance of new residential developments in the Court Square and Hunter’s Point areas – up to 10,000 new units will enter the marketplace in the next few years – means that there will be more students in the district and therefore greater competition for seats.

The new P.S. 312, a 542-seat kindergarten through 8th-grade school is set to merge with the current school, P.S. 78 which already has a capacity of 300 students. Along with I.S./H.S. 404, an intermediate and high school that will seat 1072 students, 1,614 new spaces in total will become available for prospective students.

Local mother Michelle Pak says she is “spending a fortune” on sending her two teenagers, both high school students, to a private school. Although she lives next to the site of the new I.S./H.S. 404 school in Hunter’s Point and has endured the long construction process, there is no guarantee that her kids will get a place there. “I love the idea of community-zoned schools,” says Pak, “We’ll just have to keep pushing.” She hopes that private school will just be a temporary measure.

Similarly, parents and their kids moving into the likes of the new Prudential Douglas Elliman development on Center Boulevard may be in for a surprise. Within their online sales pitch, the developers are advertising their location as “next to a long-anticipated new public elementary school [P.S. 312].” However, as a decision about zoning of the high school has not yet been made (whether local kids get priority), they are not getting an accurate idea of the status quo. On local blog LICTalk, user SL comments on a similar advertisement for the TFCornerstone development also on Center Boulevard: “Are they aware that there is only slim hopes that anyone who moves there will actually be able to send their child to that school (P.S. 312)? Is it more ironic or deceitful?”

Last Wednesday night, October 17th, a town hall meeting was hosted in MoMa PS1 by local politicians and community members, Community Education Council 30 and the Department of Education. For the parents that took to the floor, as well as the multitudes who applauded them, the predominant issue was zoning. One after another, parents asked how they could influence such a decision.

“Part of your input is here tonight,” State Senator Michael Gianaris told parents. However, the 200 strong crowd, the largest ever number at such a meeting in the district, seemed unconvinced. “We won’t be heard,” says Andrew Kleinberg after the meeting. His eldest daughter is due to start kindergarten next September.

Kleinberg, who is also the editor of LICTalk, has been very forthcoming in outlining his views on the issue. He feels that creating more seats in 6th through 12th grade is less of a priority than the need for seats in kindergarten to 5th. Writing on LICTalk, he maintains that “nobody is going to move in here to send their kids to middle and high school, so the issue is not as pressing as the elementary school famine about to occur.”

By and large, other parents agree with Kleinberg. Out of the 2,500 new apartments on Center Boulevard, he took a conservative approximation that 25 percent of the people moving in there had a child between 2008-2012, meaning 625 new children will enter elementary school within the next five years. “It’s all back of the envelope.” he says “The 25 percent is based on the type of demographic moving in here. They’re young families moving here as a transition – families who’ve just had a kid or need an extra bedroom.” Kleinberg maintains that although no official figures have been released, he has “back door confirmation” on his numbers from local politicians.

Parent and Nestseekers real estate agent, Jonna Stark, notes that this is not just a neighborhood issue but a city-wide one. Earlier this month for example, students at P.S. 46 in the Bronx were forced to change schools after an overcrowding issue shoved them out. Ironically, Stark often sells to people whose kids are creating further competition for her daughter in obtaining a seat in the new P.S. 312.  “She did not win the lottery,” says Stark, and so she attends a school that is a 30-minute walk from their home. Out of the 36 Kindergarten places in the current P.S. 78, 28 seats went to siblings of kids already in the school, thus leaving only eight openings for the other applicants. “It’s very exciting that there are more seats, but I’m skeptical that it’s going to be enough,” says Stark.

Although P.S. 312 will provide approximately 60 additional kindergarten seats to the 36 places already in P.S. 78, Kleinberg estimates that only 48 percent of local kids will succeed in getting a place. According to US Census data, the population in Long Island City grew by 10.56 percent from 2000 to 2010. An 11.74 percent increase is also forecast by 2014.

Queens as a whole however, was the borough with the lowest growth in New York City with a population expanding only 0.1 percent from 2,229,379 in 2000 to 2,230,722 in 2010. The Department of City Planning nonetheless, has attributed the lack of expansion to shortcomings in the enumeration of the census. With the Department of Education unable to provide any concrete numbers, the question remains if any accurate data actually exists.

Monica Gutierrez of The New York School Construction Authority says the figures simply cannot be known until people move into the new developments. Paradoxically though, she tells the crowd in MoMa P.S.1 that the SCA “do an analysis every year based on need.” With a new school being a five year process from conception to product, parents argue that preemptive action is needed, but ultimately, as Kleinberg notes, there is a large disconnect between the administration and the surging population.

“It is wrong that these schools were not built sooner,” Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan told parents, “but with all my frustrations, there is an improvement, however small it may seem.”