Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill elementary schools are bursting at the seams, and the city must do something about it before the situation develops into the overcrowding disaster now facing other nearby schools, say parents.
“Often with overcrowding, nothing is done until it’s a full-blown crisis,” said Paige Bellenbaum, who has two children at PS 58 on Carroll Street, at a meeting about school overcrowding in the area on Wednesday night. “What we’re worried about is — what is next year going to look like?”
Enrollment numbers at PS 58 have skyrocketed over the last decade as young families have flooded the neighborhoods — from 388 students in 2004 to 996 this year — and the school is now around 100 kids over capacity, according to city data.
The school managed to squeeze in everyone who applied this year, but it may be forced to turn away new students next year as it has now placed strict caps on several classes and doesn’t have a scrap of space to share — administrators are already using closets as offices, teachers are holding music classes on the auditorium stage, and some classrooms are packing in so many kids they are in danger of violating fire code, said the school’s principal.
“It’s a very real problem we’re facing,” said Katherine Dello Stritto. “We have capped our upper grades, so any student that comes into the zone, we can’t offer them a seat.”
Other neighborhood schools aren’t much roomier. PS 29 on Henry Street between Baltic and Kane streets is now full with around 900 kids, and PS 146 on Henry Street at Fourth Place — which is a magnet school and only takes a small number of local kids — is a little over capacity at 650 students, according to city data — a determination it makes based on the square footage of classrooms, what is being taught inside them, and whether the school receives funding for low-income students.
Carroll Gardeners and Cobble Hillians say they don’t want to end up in the same situation as PS 8 in nearby Brooklyn Heights. The popular elementary school has been way over capacity for years, and the city only started working on a solution this year after the school cut its pre-kindergarten program to save space.
Parents say they are kicking up a stink about their schools now because the situation proves the city can’t be trusted to fix the problem on its own.
“We’ve seen that early engagement alone does not force the Department of Education to do what they are supposed to do,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D–Brooklyn Heights), who is also a PS 29 parent.
City officials acknowledged the overcrowding problem, but say they have no immediate plans to do anything about it, and claim there is no space in the area to build new schools.
One solution officials are considering is to rezone PS 58 to send some kids to nearby PS 32 on Hoyt Street, which is under capacity and is slated to get a new 430-seat building some time in the future.
But locals say that may not be a long-term solution. The city is removing the trailers PS 32 uses for many of its classes next September as part of a city-wide push to get the shoddy structures out of schools, and the school runs a widely celebrated program for kids with autism that necessitates keeping class sizes small.
And even when the new building arrives, new housing developments in nearby Gowanus — particularly the 700-unit building developer Lightstone is currently erecting by the Canal — could fill the new seats as quickly as they are built, say parents.
“My first question is about the residential developments happening nearby,” said one Carroll Gardens parent who refused to give her name. “Where are all these kids going to go school?”