Guest Post: Stephen Pierson, Democratic Candidate NYC Council District 33

Stephen Pierson is a candidate for City Council in the 33rd District. He is the founder and Executive Director of Canteen Arts, a nonprofit organization that provides tutoring to at-risk public school students. He is also a member of Community Board 2 and the Democratic County Committee. He is the father of a 2-year-old daughter, with his second daughter due in November.

Unwatched Pots Boil Quickly:  Our Impending School Overcrowding Crisis in Downtown Brooklyn

Proactive measures rarely make for a rousing stump speech. As a result, New York City’s elected officials have an unfortunate habit of not addressing problems until they reach a crisis point. But without proactive measures, our district will continue staggering from crisis to crisis. As we’ve seen with our libraries, hospitals, flood preparedness, and environmental issues (e.g., Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal), ignoring simmering problems doesn’t prevent them from boiling.

We have a simmering problem in Downtown Brooklyn that threatens to boil into Brooklyn Heights and other surrounding neighborhoods in the next few years: Downtown Brooklyn will soon be flooded with thousands of new school-age children; yet there are currently no elementary or middle schools in Downtown Brooklyn. Surrounding neighborhood schools will soon be flooded with far more students than they can handle.

When Downtown was rezoned in 2004, the City estimated that this rezoning would result in just under 1,000 total new housing units.1 However, by 2018 the rezoning will have actually resulted in nearly 13,000 new units—8,000 of which will be built over the next five years. According to the NYC School Construction Authority’s formula,2 by 2018 Downtown Brooklyn will have 2,303 more Pre-K to 5th grade students and 950 more middle school students.

Without any new schools, Brooklyn Heights’ lone public school, PS 8, will flood with new applicants. The problem is that even with PS 8’s new (2011) annex, it still has space for only 56 more students. And by the Department of Education’s “Target” methodology (it’s “aspirational” capacity calculation), PS 8 is actually already 48 students over capacity.

On top of this, Brooklyn Heights and the entire zone of PS 8 anticipates an additional 936 units of housing between now and 2016. Using the School Construction Authority’s formula, new PS 8 housing will result in 271 more Pre-K through 5th grade students and 112 middle schoolers by 2016. This number doesn’t include the potential for many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of new units that could result from the impending sale of the Jehovah’s Witness properties.

The only new planned schools are Brooklyn Prospect Charter School’s kindergarten through 5th grade school at 80 Willoughby Street (75 kindergarten seats, with 50 more added each year till it reaches 300 seats, opening September 2013), and the middle school planned at the Dock Street project in Dumbo (300 seats, no ETA). But these new seats do not come remotely close to accounting for the number of new students listed above. Furthermore, Brooklyn Prospect enrolls students based on a lottery that doesn’t give preference to local residents.

Shamefully, the only people drawing attention to this issue are a single graduate student and one grass roots organization, Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions. Our elected officials have chosen to completely ignore this impending crisis.

Steps we can take to proactively solve this problem:

  Use tax abatements and zoning changes such as FAR (floor area ratio) increases to incentivize the building of schools alongside major developments. Due to a failure of leadership and foresight from our elected officials, the opportunity has been lost to require major developments like City Point (1,290 housing units), Avalon Willoughby (860 units), and BKLYN Gold (510 units, with a large footprint) to include plans for a school as part of their projects. Still, several opportunities exist: Forest City Ratner’s development at 10 Metrotech and the redevelopment of the parking garage at 300 Livingston Street could be ideal. Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions also suggests five other locations.

   Rezone current elementary school districts to zone students from Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, and Dumbo to attend PS 287 and PS 307 which together have just over 400 open seats. Note that these schools are both historically underperforming. So it’s not good enough to simply rezone and flood these open seats: We (both the DOE and us parents!) need to also commit time and resources to improving educational outcomes at PS 287 and 307—something that should be done regardless of Downtown overcrowding issues.


  Push the School Construction Authority to fund and fast-track the building of a new school in Downtown Brooklyn. As an alternative to building a new school form the ground up, encourage the city to repurpose one of their existing municipal or high school buildings in Downtown to house an elementary or middle school.

   Expand PS 261 in Boerum Hill in District 15. This school (60 under capacity, presently) is currently built to a FAR of 2.18 while it is allowed to build to 3.0. Additionally, a zoning variance could be sought to allow for an even larger expansion.3

I hope this missive serves as a wake-up call: We need to act quickly to make sure that new schools are built while there’s still some small amount of space to build them, and developers who can still be incentivized. We can’t afford to wait any longer.



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  • Suzanne K

    Nice to see this issue being discussed.

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    Well done, Stephen. You make some excellent points.

  • Ignatz

    Seems like he lifted his statement almost verbatim from the report. That’s not really his work then, is it?

  • lol

    He’s a politician? Thought he was a professional card player. Maybe a nice guy but my opinion he doesn’t have the experience.

  • Carlotta

    If we let the Brooklyn Heights Library be sold to a developer to build yet another high rise, that will only add to the school dilemma. Got to Citizens Defending Libraries and sign the petition:
    Let our elected representatives and all the candidates running for office in this city know that the citizens will not stand for this takeover of their public resources.

  • marshasrimler

    yes..but what does he offer as a candidate for city council… Not much

  • marshasrimler

    yes .. Carolotta..we will not let the library be sold if we have to go to court to stop it we will

  • AYauchParkMoms

    Personally I/we are in favor of more schools! While there are strong private school options in the area, it would be great to see the public school infrastructure developed for those who can’t afford that sort of tuition.

  • Ben

    The downtown schools at zoned for a school that is under capacity. I get that they don’t want their kids to go to school with kids from the projects, but too bad. Eventually the dumbo buildings Zoned for ps 8 will have to be rezoned for the also under capacity school in vinegar hill. So this is actually not an issue

    Ps133 (that d13 residents can attend – also under capacity) cost 65 million. Schools aren’t cheap. You don’t get a new one bcs you don’t like the one your condo is zoned for


    Neighborhood parents don’t have an issue with the children at the desks next to their kids. Don’t make it about something it is not. They might have an issue with a failing school, appearing to stem from failed leadership, in addition to the fact the school is not in fact in their neighborhood. Perhaps.

    But the bottom line remains that if the city had correctly predicted the population numbers for Downtown BK, they would have planned a school. It turns out they vastly underestimated the population numbers. This issue needs to be addressed before a crisis is reached. Yes, schools aren’t cheap, but more expensive than planning a new school is not planning a new school until it is too late.

  • skunky

    where’s Levin on this issue?

  • Marathoner

    this is all rhetoric aimed at getting people riled up and thinking that incumbents have failed us….

    this ignorantly fails to acknowledge the long-term commitments of parents and city electeds which have improved PS8 and opened up MS8 just down the street

    if anyone thinks that a newcomer is able to just waltz into office and magically make school seats appear and school performance soar… I got news for you

    the tone of this article speaks to the ignorance of the candidate and his belief that the electorate is too obtuse to notice

  • Marathoner

    ps if you just hand out tax abatements, you forfeit the revenues you need to fund the schools in the first place… great ideas, but it’s a bit more complicated than this – we’re not in this situation because we’re dumb or lazy, it’s hard work and requires experience, dedication, time, money, etc.