As public schools improve and more parents want their children to attend them, the School Construction Authority is scrambling to create new space and build new schools to ease overcrowding. NY1's Elizabeth Kaledin filed the following report.
On Manhattan's Upper West Side, a fancy new high-rise building under construction features a big ad for the local public school.
But P.S. 199 just around the corner is bursting at the seams. Eight kindergarten classes will enroll there in September, up from seven last year. It is one of many city public schools under pressure from overcrowding.
"The city does anticipate to grow in the next 30 years so we have to stay on top of that and see where that growth will occur," says Sharon Greenberger of the School Construction Authority.
Critics say the Department of Education has not done a very good job of managing the problem, and cite the unhappiness this spring in Greenwich Village, when families were put on waiting lists for neighborhood schools.
The issue has since been resolved, but detractors say the situation was mishandled.
"I question a system that allows such confusion and such chaos over where kids are going to go," says Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. "They didn't anticipate the baby boom with all the kids coming into the system? They didn't anticipate with all the construction that;s going on? Hello!"
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein was not made available for an interview, leaving SCA officials to defend itself themselves.
"This year we're opening 22 new school buildings. Last year we opened 18 new school buildings and next year we'll open 25 new school buildings. So that's 65 new school buildings over a three-year period, which is an unprecedented number," says Greenberger. "It brings on line 43,000 seats in a three-year period."
As part of a $13 billion capital plan just completed, DOE officials say school seats are being created faster than any time since the 1930s and the demand keeps evolving.
"We will still need 25,000 new seats in addition to the 63,000 new seats to continue to relieve overcrowding," says Greenberger.
The SCA admits in the past population shifts were not foreseen and developers were not required to include schools in their plans, but that is going to change.
"We are working with developers throughout the city right now who have big plans, and are insisting that we begin talking with them about school mitigation, to make sure that we anticipate school needs before the students are there," says Greenberger.
It is a new tactic in a shifting educational landscape.