On the waiting-list front, he is banking on substantial attrition from families opting for gifted-and-talented programs or from private-school double-bookers: “Come June, these lists will be much, much smaller, if they even will exist at all.” Last week, White reported that all of the 70-odd families remaining on the Village lists would be absorbed at P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 this fall; space was freed by moving the schools’ pre-kindergartens elsewhere in the neighborhood. He also said that the P.S. 151 families had found at least a short-term home at a former parochial school on East 91st Street.
White argues that fault for the “pockets of consistent overenrollment” in District 2 belongs to the benighted days before mayoral control: “That’s the old school board’s lag, and we are living out the results.” The district is “just beginning to see the fruits” of the current administration’s more astute planning, he says, with close to 2,500 new seats coming on line by 2012. Another 3,000 or so are budgeted in “Building on Success,” which rolls out on July 1. The allotment sounds impressive, but according to Leonie Haimson of the research-and-advocacy group Class Size Matters, District 2 actually needs 9,238 new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade seats by 2012 to meet the state’s mandated class-size-reduction goals. “I think we have a disaster waiting to happen,” says Haimson. “We’re seeing the very beginning of it now, and it’s going to leave this school system in shambles.”
Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer worries about a tipping point of school overcrowding. “Parents go where the school is,” he says. “If we can’t meet that need, they leave and they don’t look back—and that’s when we lose our tax base.” But Beveridge doesn’t foresee any substantial out-migration from the city. Recessions hurt mobility: “If you can’t sell your apartment, it’s hard to move,” he noted. In fact, the financial industry’s implosion might bring more children into District 2 schools, as real estate becomes affordable for a broader spectrum of buyers. “That $2.4 million condo might look a lot better at $1.5 million—and it has three bedrooms, so then you stay and have a kid. If the housing market drops faster than the job market, then the trend [toward higher enrollments] could continue, easily.” A child-centered, more-populous Manhattan has all the signs of “a long-term demographic trend,” he says.
The bright side is that all too many cities—Cleveland, St. Louis, Washington, D.C.—have the opposite quandary, where the middle class has deserted the public schools en masse. In New York, said Dan Weisberg, the DOE’s chief labor negotiator before joining the New Teacher Project, “we take for granted that we have schools that are going to be attractive to middle-class residents.” The hold lists in District 2, he went on, are an expression of “more demand than we can meet at this point … In some ways, it’s a happy problem.”
But try telling that to the 5-year-olds still waiting for their desks—or to the ever-growing cohort of younger ones behind them.