School crowding eases, but Riverdale's PS 81 still feels pinch

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Overcrowding has been an endemic problem in local schools for decades, if not forever. But, this year at least, the numbers are telling a different story, even if it isn’t the whole story.

Only one school in the area is reported to have more students than the building has room for — the Robert J. Christen School, PS 81 - where 696 students are enrolled, 116 more than the Department of Education classifies as a school with reasonable class sizes.

“We had a fairly sizable waitlist. However, a lot of people move over the summer,” Nina Velazquez, parent coordinator at PS 81, said.

Ms. Velazquez said this year PS 81 received more kindergarten applications than seats available, though that could change once school begins. As parents move out of the zone and students change schools, space may open up.

Many other schools, though, are operating far below their stated capacity.

One of the most sparsely populated area schools, PS 310, was only filled to 63 percent capacity during the 2008-2009 school year, according to the Department of Education’s Enrollment, Capacity and Utilization Report.

PS 7 in Kingsbridge used 75 percent of available space, while the David A. Stein Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, MS/HS 141 used 80 percent. John F. Kennedy High School used only 79 percent.

PS 360 and PS 95 were also underutilized, with the percentage of kids filling seats near 80 percent.

Not everyone agrees with those figures, however. Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, an organization that champions the benefits of smaller classes, cautioned that these figures might be misleading. She said District 10, which Riverdale and Kingsbridge are part of, is one of the most overcrowded areas of the city, adding that the DOE is “legally obligated to be moving towards much smaller class sizes” than are allowed for in the report.

“You have a systemic problem in District 10, and that has not been dealt with by the Department of Education or even admitted,” she said.

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