The brownstone-Brooklyn baby boom is causing a sort of educational crisis in the once easygoing borough, leading parents to wonder: When did this turn into Manhattan? A flood of would-be students has forced the area’s premier preschools (where tuition is five figures) to close their application season as much as three months early. “This is unprecedented,” says Eileen Shannon, the director of Open House Nursery School in Cobble Hill. “We had 300 people contact us for 40 slots. That’s 50 percent more than last year, and we still have parents calling. We have to say, ‘I’m sorry, it was all over two months ago.’ ” They gave applications to only the first 100 callers and e-mailers on October 16—which took a half-hour. Meanwhile, the Berkeley Carroll School stopped accepting application fees a month ago for pre-K3 (for 3-year-olds); Brooklyn Friends School has a “wait-pool” for pre-K2 and three applications; Packer Collegiate Institute is setting up a lottery for its juice-party “interview” slots. The mother of an 18-month-old, who will not know if her daughter got into a pre-K2 program until March, says, “I have toured five schools and spent more time on applications than I did on my college applications. The whole thing is preposterous.”
What’s happening? Blame the siblings, who, along with legacies and faculty children—“priority applicants”—have filled nearly all available slots. “We’ve never had such a disproportionate number,” says Valorie Iason, preschool and lower-school director of admissions for Packer, which has space for eighteen 3-year-olds. “We’ve always received six or seven ‘priority’ applications, but not double that, like we did this year.” Parents are particularly unappreciative of mixed messages from schools. “I was livid with Brooklyn Friends,” says one mother of a 21-month-old. “Their phone system was overloaded, and it just kept ringing. I didn’t get through to a person for three days. Then I went on a two-hour tour, and at the end they announced that they were no longer accepting applications as of the previous Friday!” (Brooklyn Friends communications director Joan Martin says, “Parents know that we may need to close applications early.”) Many are already clamoring to line up alternatives. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” says a mother of a 2-year-old with wait-listed pre-K3 applications submitted at three schools. A mother of a 1-year-old, who couldn’t get a slot in a day-care program last week, says, “I am scrambling for backup. But I’m definitely going back to work, and it’s a bit scary if you don’t know exactly what you’re going to be doing in six months.” And none of the schools have plans to expand their pre-K programs, meaning there’s no relief in sight.