A downtown baby boom

By George Hunka

If the Department of Education doesn’t address the overcrowding of downtown schools soon, it may find the problem growing exponentially worse in just the next few years, says a member of State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s School Crowding Task Force in today’s issue of The Broadsheet.

Tribeca resident and task force member Eric Greenleaf has run the numbers in a new Department of Health and Mental Hygiene report and says that projected population growth below Canal Street will put more strain on an already overburdened school system. Birth rates to downtown families jumped over ten percent from 2011 to 2012, he reports, and there’s no sign that the growth will abate anytime soon.

Matthew Fenton’s report continues:

While the growing ranks of residents are one sign of Lower Manhattan’s vitality, the numbers are also worrisome. “Kids born in 2012 will be going to kindergarten in 2017,” says Mr. Greenleaf. “We’ve known for years that we’re facing a shortage of school seats, but this makes the deficit more drastic than before. And it may be even worse than it looks, because these numbers are for 2012. When you consider the dozens of new apartment towers recently built or converted in Lower Manhattan, it seems reasonable to assume that even more young families will move here and had children in 2013.”

“Right now,” Mr. Greenleaf says, “we have a combined kindergarten capacity in all Lower Manhattan public schools of 400 seats per year.” When the Peck Slip School (now under construction in the South Street Seaport neighborhood) opens, “that capacity will expand to 475.” When another new school (plans for which were recently announced by the Department of Education, but no site for which has been found thus far) opens, “we’ll have a total capacity of 550 kindergarten seats, assuming the school has three classes per grade. But a site would have to be found for that school in the next two months for it to open in 2017, and the chances of that seem pretty remote.”

Mr. Greenleaf projects that if 60 percent of the Lower Manhattan children born in 2012 try to attend kindergarten in 2017 (a consensus estimate used by statisticians), “we’ll need 715 seats. And even the new school they haven’t sited yet won’t get us to that number.”

The full story can be found in the Broadsheet here.

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