City Ponders Solution to Overcrowding at BPC's Popular P.S. 276

Parents, most of whom hope to enroll their children into kindergarten at P.S. 276 next year, take a tour of the school last month, led by the parent coordinator, Erica Weldon. Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

It was the start of a P.S./I.S. 276 school tour last month and Principal Terri Ruyter stood at the front of the auditorium, facing parents who were filled with hope and uncertainty.

Having run through her PowerPoint on the school’s philosophy, she now be­gan the part that, for many of these mothers and fathers of 4-year-olds, addressed their more immediate concerns.

“As I’m sure you are aware, there are more children living in our zone than we have physical space for,” Ruyter began. What followed was a delicately stated account of her struggle with the De­part­ment of Education over how to solve that kindergarten enrollment problem without running out of classrooms in the rest of the building—a path she says the school is already on.

“There are a number of solutions being bandied about and I’m pushing very strongly for a decision,” she told the parents.

Unhappily for Ruyter and many of her current parents, the solution handed to the school the last three years was to open more kindergarten classes than the three intended for the building. There were five in the past two years and four the year before. Based on enrollment last month, parent coordinator Erica Weldon said she expects 130 to 140 kindergartners in the P.S. 276 zone—enough to fill at least five classes—to be seeking seats at the school.

On Jan. 24, Ruyter led a DOE official and representatives of a slew of elected officials on a tour of the school to show, as she later said, “how the building was actually being used.”

“It’s fine to see it in the abstract to look at a plan that doesn’t have any people in the rooms,” Ruyter said. “But when you tour the building and you see this is what the rooms look like with 33 eighth graders in them then it makes this empty little box on a piece of paper mean something else.”

Ruyter and others on the tour, which was closed to the press, later said they believed they had made some headway with Drew Patterson, the DOE’s Director of Plan­ning for South Manhattan, over “cluster” rooms—music, art and science rooms—that he had thought could be transformed into classrooms.

“Before the meeting he thought all [those rooms] were on the table,” said PTA co-president Matt Schneider. “Now a certain number of rooms are not.”

Schneider said it is uncertain how many rooms that would be or whether other rooms under consideration would qualify, such as one used by a special education school that occupies its own floor and others that P.S./I.S. 276 designates for special purposes.

“In my mind there’s not feasible space that Drew’s going to be able to come up with to add more than the three kindergarten classes that we’re allocated,” Schneider said.

Responding to questions about classrooms that may—or may not—be under consideration to relieve the crowding, DOE spokesman Devon Puglia replied in an email: “At this point, no formal plan has been developed, and therefore it would be unrealistic to comment on specific classrooms within this space.”

Paul Hovitz, co-chair of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Com­mi­ttee, is arguing for an off-site pre-K center, to free  up classrooms in  P.S. 276 and other potentially crowded Down­town schools. He said that could be at Tweed Courthouse, now the incubation site for the Peck Slip School where, he believes, the DOE may now be willing to carve out two more classrooms, though he and others on CB1 would like to see more.

The DOE, which in the past has opposed more than two classes per grade at Tweed, did not respond to questions about that possibility for the next school year.