P.S. 8 Overcrowding: Wait-Listed Parents State Their Case at Community Meeting; DOE ‘Faces the Music’

Numerous elected officials, the District 13 CEC, current and prospective parents from P.S. 8 and P.S. 307 convened in the auditorium of P.S. 287 this past Wednesday evening to hear the presentation by WeArePS8Too.  The parent group represents the fifty children wait-listed for Kindergarten at P.S. 8 and advocates for the restoration of the 6th section for the 2015-16 academic year in addition to medium and long-term solutions to overcrowding in District 13. P.S. 8 received over 200 applications for Kindergarten for 2015, 30 more than last year.  The school made 150 offers for 125 seats.  At present, enrollment stands at 125 leaving at least fifty children on a wait-list that is not likely to benefit from substantial attrition or movement.

CEC President, David Goldsmith began the meeting with highlights of the CEC’s mission and introductions of elected officials, joking the DOE should “face the music.”  State Senator Daniel Squadron, Council Member Steve Levin, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon and members of their staff Zeeshan Ott, Casey Adams and Ptahra Jeppe, respectively were present.  Comptroller, Scott Stringer made an appearance. Also in attendance were Jeff Lowell from the office of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Dan Wiley from Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez’s office and a representative of District 35 Councilmember Laurie Cumbo.  Executive Director of Space Planning Thomas Taratko and District 13 Superintendent Barbara Freeman represented the DOE.  A member of the DOE’s Office of Enrollment was not present.  Audience members of note were Executive Director of the Brooklyn Heights Association Judy Stanton, P.S. 8 PTA Co-Presidents, Kim Glickman and Ansley Samson and Christopher Young of Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions whose group advocates for new school construction and sharing education options available to parents.

PS8HEADERMichael Colby Jones, a parent of children who received placement at P.S. 8 began the presentation by painting a picture of families, friends and neighbors passionately invested in the success of their zoned school and dedicated to medium and long-term solutions to overcrowding.  “The moment that my wife and I knew that we were going to have kids, we would wander down to the [P.S. 8] fair every year and we would support it, because our children would be going there…I can’t tell you how many other parents who didn’t get in had the same thought.”  He continued by talking through a timeline of events leading up to the decision to cut the sixth section-a decision Jones insisted excluded their engagement.

Parent of a wait-listed child, David Margalit put forth the group’s reasoning behind their position.  Namely, the DOE violated their own Chancellor’s Regulations, which dictate non-essential programs may be “reduced or eliminated” to accommodate zoned students.   Their class size projection with the sixth section would still allow for the use of one cluster room, a model under which the school has operated sporadically in previous years.  Additionally, the DOE’s decision to cut the class in March 2015 vs. November 2014 (when the PTA Town Hall Meeting took place) was well after deadlines for other viable options had passed.   Lastly, the decision haphazardly separated children from their friends and community. Margalit’s choked up as he lamented, “It breaks my heart, when I hear my son say ‘next year I’m going to go to school with [my friends]’ who he has spent all this time with, growing up with them the last couple of years.  And we haven’t told him yet…we hope to never have to tell him [that he didn’t get into P.S. 8].”

Thomas Taratko responded to the group’s assertions explaining, “I’m not here to wave a magic wand and ‘say 6 sections, go ahead.’ I’m here to explain some of the thought process behind the decision-making.”  Taratko refuted the section cut violated the regulations, citing the elimination of pre-k the following year was the last non-essential program that could be cut.  He disputed their timeline and claims of wide gaps of communication from the DOE citing his meeting with the P.S. 8 PTA in February or March.  This sent murmurs through the crowd and prompted a shout out, “that’s wasn’t us!”

Taratko called the amount of development in Downtown Brooklyn “absurd” and said, “If I came to you in an apologetic tone, the apology would be that we didn’t step up to the plate a couple of years ago and re-zone the area around P.S. 8. It’s a huge zone.”  Yet, he downplayed any urgency for the School Construction Authority to build new schools in District 13.  “We have excess capacity in this area. A couple of hundred seats at P.S. 307, a couple of hundred seats at where we are here. So the building option is not the first one that we would do…this area is not the number one priority in the city.”

Councilman Levin took the floor and recalled the 2004 commercial re-zoning of Downtown Brooklyn that also gave developers the option to build residential properties.  “What do we see there today?…Exclusively residential development. The City of New York neglected to have elementary seats as part of that re-zoning…There needs to be new seats in District 13, today.”  Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions’ 2013 article, “The Problem with P.S. 8,” clearly lays out the challenges District 13 faces posed by over-development and predicts, “the contentious re-zoning of P.S. 8.”

Senator Daniel Squadron added, “I do disagree respectfully and professionally, but very strongly with what [Tom Taratko] said that the only mistake here was with re-zoning.”  He cited his frustration with the DOE’s lack of communication.  “Nobody has any faith that the DOE is going to come up with a good reasonable plan…so the short -term, medium-term and long-term are actually one problem.”

The Q&A period drew inquiries from predominantly parents of wait-listed children. The first burning question: who made the decision to cut the Kindergarten section and why?  Tom Taratko explained that while he was included in the conversation, the decision was made by committee involving the recommendation of P.S. 8 Principal Seth Phillips, the Office of Enrollment and the Space Planning analytics team.  He maintained, “I respect the instructional people’s point of view of what they can teach in the building…I would not impose upon [Seth Phillips] or make the recommendation to keep a sixth section. So for that I am responsible.”  Superintendent Barbara Freeman added that schools receive projections for the number of classes each year. And, despite having added a sixth section for the past two years, projections for P.S. 8 have never included a sixth Kindergarten section.

Taratko continued, “I do not believe that there will be a 6th section added [for 2015-16]. I don’t have the authority here to tell you that there will be a 6th section added. But I am here to write down everyone’s questions, concerns, see where the perceptions of our failures are, where our failures were and try to correct those.”  Again, this sparked shout outs from the audience of “Who makes the final decision?!”  Ultimately, he conceded the final word belongs to School Chancellor, Carmen Farina.

In response, a parent, directed a heartfelt plea to Tom Taratko pointing out the disconnect between information prospective parents received at community meetings and tours of P.S. 8 compared to the actual events.  “This wait-list is a devastation. There’s a difference between Seth [Phillips] telling us in January that about 5% of families may or may not get in and that usually by fall we’ll figure it out.’ There’s a HUGE difference between 5% and 40-50%!”

Comptroller, Scott Stringer

Comptroller, Scott Stringer

At this time, Comptroller, Scott Stringer briefly introduced his office’s audit titled “Department of Education Efforts to Alleviate Overcrowding in School Buildings.”  He also demonstrated solidarity with parents as a father whose child is zoned for an overcrowded school on the Upper West Side. “I just wanted to stop by tonight to say ‘I feel it, I know how scary it is,’ but I also want to pledge to work with Councilman Levin, Assemblymember Simon and Senator Squadron. We will work together, we will give you data, we will work with the parents association and the CEC and the DOE.”

Once the Q&A continued, others expressed their skepticism and lack of faith in the DOE’s ability to deliver a suitable plan for re-zoning to the CEC. David Goldsmith stressed that any re-zoning plan presented by the DOE must be ready for a CEC vote by November 2015.  Goldsmith is working in conjunction with Councilman Levin on the formation of a taskforce created specifically to address the overcrowding in District 13’s public schools.  He added optimistically, “When people roll their sleeves up to get something done because it HAS to be done, because it’s our children, it WILL be done. And we’ll need your help.”   The mother of a 2016 ascending Kindergartner questioned whether re-zoning would even solve the problem and further challenged, “Why on earth is there no regulation that says if there are ‘x number of residential units built in a zone that x number of school seats have to accommodate them!’”

The final questions of the night brought to light the downsides of ill-planned infrastructure.  A member of the P.S. 307 School Leadership Team, provided her perspective, “I would like to posit I’ve heard lots of talk about YOUR school, YOUR  community, YOUR kids…BUT, when you fight to stay in your school. Please do not disparage our school and our kids. Because…we read the things that you write about our kids and our schools.” The mother of a child attending P.S. 8 in the fall asked Tom Taratko to deliver a personal message to Carmen Farina, “Ask [her] how she would feel if it were her grandchild living in this zone?  She needs to put a face on this.”  Senator Squadron closed the meeting by saying that “Sometimes when governments really screw up, communities can turn on each other.  Those that got in, those that didn’t get in, existing P.S. 8 parents, existing P.S. 307 parents, prospective P.S. 307 parents are all in this together. We all have the same interests. What’s happening now is not good for 307 as it grows and does everything it can for its kids. It’s not good for P.S. 8, it’s not good for the parents here.”

As he did after the Town Hall meeting in November, Senator Squadron challenged Tom Taratko to a follow up meeting that would deliver answers for wait-listed parents.  David Goldsmith re-enforced the important work of the upcoming District 13 Taskforce. “The Task Force clearly understands what happens in one school has a very big effect completely across the district. And all planning has to be done in concert with planning for all students across the district. Let’s get busy folks, we’ve got a lot of work to do!”  The first Taskforce meeting is tentatively scheduled for the end of May.

Disclosure:  The author has been active in the parent group that created the ‘WeArePS8Too’ petition and continues to advocate toward solutions for P.S. 8 and District 13.

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  • Joe

    if only these people knew Carmen did have a grandchild in PS8’s zone.

    and still with the 40%. 200 applied, 150 were offered seats. That 40% was a made up number from the beginning

  • Banet

    The BHA just published this Demand For Action on PS 8 overcrowding:


  • Banet

    I’m not sure of your point of view.

    Regardless of percentages, even if they remain at 5 Kindergartens classes of 25, that’s 125 kids per year. Multitasking my that out by 6 years and the school will have 750 kids… which is 50 more kids than the already extremely full school holds.

    It seems pretty obvious to me that rapid (contentious) rezoning is needed followed by the simultaneous construction of a new school.

  • Guest

    At the meeting, the DOE was pretty clear that it is not building a new school in this area anytime soon, as both PS307 and PS287 are under-utilized by several hundred seats. DOE said it would put a rezoning proposal out this fall.

  • D


  • Math

    Here’s how you get to 40% of families turned away. These are rough cut numbers but are in range if not spot-on. You have to look at siblings,
    because siblings are guaranteed admissions and everyone else is not. There were 35 siblings; everyone who had a sibling was guaranteed a
    spot. Backing out these siblings, there are 90 seats for 170 kids – or 80 out of 170 not able to get a seat; squarely in the 40-50% range.

  • memeadjuster

    Generally speaking, I’m wondering how and why, in supposedly the greatest city in the greatest country in the world, in the most affluent neighborhood in Brooklyn, things were allowed to devolve to the point where we can’t even ensure adequate placement for our kindergarten/grade schoolers?

  • Pi

    Incorrect. First, siblings have priority but NO child has a guaranteed spot. Second, take 200-35 = 165. Take 150 offered seats – 35 given to priority sibs = 115. So 115 of the 165 non-siblings were offered seats. So, 70%. That’s the math, Math.

    Attrition impacts sibs and non-sibs, and actually impacts sibs at a higher rate historically.

  • gc

    I’m wondering where Pi’s kids go to school??
    If you’re not making $500,000 per year there is no guarantee of an adequate education here in the Heights.

  • Logic + Math > Pi

    Wow, such passion about numbers! You must have received a top flight NYC public school education. Perhaps they even had room for you at PS 8. So let’s do this.

    Let’s use the term “new” to equal families without siblings

    205 families total – 35 families with siblings = 170 “new” families seeking seats

    125 K seats – 35 families with siblings = 90 “new” families getting seats

    170 “new” families seeking seats – 90 “new” families getting seats = 80 “new” families not getting seats

    80 “new” families not getting seats / 170 “new” families seeking seats = 47%

    Oh, and then there’s the fact that this specific number is besides the point. 20%, 25%, 30%, 47%, whatever, this is still a colossal cluster-you-know-what. The precision of the ridiculousness is irrelevant. No matter which set of numbers you how with, there are still A LOT of families impacted, and this could have been completely avoided.

  • Pi

    I’m passionate about facts. I’m passionate about not losing DOE-required room set asides for “special” classes (art, music, etc) for all enrolled kids for nearly decade and bumping class sizes past DOE blue book standards because one year, one class pushed in against the school administrations request.

    They offered 150 seats. The attrition rates apply to all kids. 125 is incorrect. It is.

    We are zoned for PS8 and one of my kids graduated from there years ago when nobody liked the “profile” of the students. For my youngest we opted for a dual language program in Ft Greene over PS8. There are lots of options out there.

    And now should everyone say where their kids are in school? I’m not sure how it’s helpful but if you’re that curious.

  • Poplar

    While I do have real sympathy for waitlisted parents, I have to agree that it’s important to look at the long term consequences of having 150 kindergarteners in an already overcrowded school. While past years did have 6 K classes, they were not at capacity and the grade as a whole was smaller. While the report shows how to squeeze them in for one year, I am concerned about what happens in the future years. It seems to inevitably lead to very very large classes and likely an even more drastic reduction in K seats for the years that follow.

  • Andrew Porter

    I saw a large number of pre-school age kids at the Willowtown Fair on Saturday. As various newspapers have noted, there’s been a surge in child-bearing in the more affluent neighborhoods of NYC, of which BH is a prime example. This problem is only going to get worse. (And no, I have no kids.)

  • Mary

    I’m confused why PS 8 is considered to be at 140% capacity, when there are 696 students enrolled this year. With 30 classrooms, even if class sizes were capped at 25 students each class and 3 rooms reserved for art, music, etc., there would be 675 seats. I also question why the administration argues that the school was built for 4 classes each grade, when that would leave 6 empty classrooms. Math is not my forte, but this seems to be a mistake or an exaggeration and zoned children are suffering for it. Am I missing something?

  • Parent

    You need space for other special classes such as art, music, science etc..

  • k

    I believe the art, music, etc. classrooms were taken into account in the math that Mary outlined.

  • Lady in the Heights

    You are spot on. I do not understand why anyone would fight to have their kid in an overcrowded school. My first kid was at PS8 when it was empty and my second came when they went from 4 to 5 K classes, and she had 28 kids in her K class. She never had a class with fewer than that number all the way through 5th grade. Now in middle school she is at ICE with 20 kids. The difference is huge! We took the leap to PS8 when no one else was there. Take the leap, go to a different school and help make it great just like we did at PS8 ten years ago. Let go of the fight because I am afraid you won’t be so happy about it in the long run.

  • Mary

    I’ve seen it cited a number of times, even in the PTA’s overcrowding analysis, that the school’s capacity is 524 seats. How is that possible with 30 classrooms? Even if 5 rooms were used for specials, unheard of in a public school, that would be 20 kids per class, also unheard of in a public school. Is everyone using pre-annex capacity numbers? There were 500-something students before the annex was built. This seems important since the 140% capacity figure, which may be grossly inaccurate, was partly the rationale for disenfranchising zoned children.

  • Parent

    Currently there’s 1 gym teacher for 700 children. 1 art teacher for 700 children. 1 music teacher for 700 children.Are you following ? kids have to crowd into classrooms that are physically to small to hold the 25- 29 kids in the class. Kids who need special services can’t get the help they need because the staff is stretched too thin. The teachers are overwhelmed. I’m not sure what you’re trying to prove with your inane posts but one thing is clear .. You don’t understand how severe the situation is at PS8.

  • heights res

    New construction is not needed as long as there are open seats at ps307 and ps287

  • Mary

    Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that I, or another incoming or waitlisted parent has been subjected to belittling comments for daring to question a decision that frankly screws our kids over. I guess Senator Squadron is right. When there’s a failure of government, a community sometimes turns on each other and that’s the saddest part of this situation. I’m not hiding my identity so if you ever see me in the neighborhood, feel free to come up and have a rational conversation.

  • Mary

    Also, you’re right, from the outside, the situation at PS8 doesn’t seem so severe. Having grown up in NYC, it seems like every public school with challenges. I’ve looked at the attrition rate which is negligible and the parents I know are happy with the school, even those with kids needing ICT services. I’m not trying to prove anything, I’m looking for honest dialogue with all parties participating, which has not happened yet.

  • PS teacher

    Does PS 8 have self contained classrooms ( classrooms used for special education students)? The PS I work at is a much smaller school, around 250 students and has two rooms set aside for those classes. ICT doesn’t work for all students and some schools provide self contained settings for those students. If PS 8 does this as well they need rooms for those students too.

  • ps8 parent


    I dont know the % over capacity, but I do know current numbers.

    There are currently 703 enrolled K-5th students at PS8

    79 5th graders will graduate this year, and 125 students will arrive in the Fall. So that’s an expected 749 students in 2015-2016. That’s with 5 K classes, not 6.

    Remember UFT cap for K is 25 kids per class. This means, take out the 125 kids and 5 classes for K and you have 584 kids in 22 classrooms (assuming PS8 is honoring the DOE-required cluster room set asides).

    Again, this is the 5 K classroom scenario.

    And yes, PS8 has a CTT one class in every grade.

  • Slyone

    Not sure how helpful this will be, but the bases for the
    target capacities of individual buildings are set out in the Blue Book (which is available here:

    An explanation of the “target” capacity numbers is in the front part of that book. I understand that these were adopted in response to the state “Contracts for Excellence law” (find it here: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/part100/pages/10013.html) basically as the result of a
    2006 settlement of the long-ago Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit (which challenged NY school officials on the ground that they were not providing a “sound basic” education to students).

    More info about the “why” behind these numbers and targets can be found in the
    Class Size Matters report, “Space Crunch,” here: http://www.classsizematters.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/SPACE-CRUNCH-Report-Final-OL.pdf).

    There remains a disconnect in funding. One reason you often see overcrowded classrooms even in buildings where there are extra classrooms (even beyond what is required for specialty classes, Pre-K, staff office space, and resource rooms for pull-out work with students with IEPs, etc.), is because the state hasn’t followed through on its commitment to fund schools at a level that would allow sufficient teachers to meet the class size targets. Some schools that get a large percentage of their fair student funding are better equipped to meet the targets if there is space. In other, more significantly underfunded schools, class size targets can’t be met even if there is space — because of funding shortfalls.

    I would like to stand up for the PS8 “administration” and our Principal Seth Phillips, in particular, because their judgment and commitment has been absolutely central to the transformation of PS8 from a place proposed for closure in 2001-02 to a place to which families in this community want to send their children. I am deeply grateful for the incredibly hard work our principal and teachers have and continue to put in despite challenging circumstances.

    This is an incredibly difficult situation and, as a community member, I am very sorry for it.

  • Banet

    Indeed, there are currently 290 open seats across PS 8, 307, and 287. With thoughtful rezoning and the passage of time, the schools would balance out… if not for new construction.

    In the PS 8 zone alone there are large construction projects resulting in 1,841 new apartments, which in turn will result in 534 elementary school students. And that’s using the city’s own apartment to student ratio… which the DOE has admitted is based on citywide occupancy. In a neighborhood like ours the resulting number of students will be much higher.

    So in a few years there will be almost twice as many new students in the PS 8 zone alone than there are empty seats across all 3 schools. And this doesn’t take into account the thousands upon thousands of new apartments opening in Downtown Brooklyn.

    No matter how you rezone it, newseats are needed in this part of Brooklyn.

    (See this article for details:


  • heights res

    Agreed, but the main thrust of the current complaints seem to be pushing for immediate relief

  • heights res

    No, PS8 managed to get rid of all of their self-contained classes many years ago. Only accept ICT now.

  • BHMommy

    Carmen’s daughter lives in 30 Main and sends her kids to Brooklyn Friends.

  • L

    How come teachers can’t travel to kids? Does every teacher need his or her own classroom? Staff capacity should be treated as a separate question from room capacity.