By Eric Jankiewicz

Borough President Melinda Katz visited two overcrowded elementary schools in Forest Hills Monday in an attempt to mediate a problem with kindergarten and pre-K space.

Parents from PS 144 and PS 196 were notified in April that kindergarten students were being sent to schools outside of the neighborhood because of a lack of extra seats in the two schools.

“The Department of Education has a true desire to help these kids. They have to find extra space,” Katz said. “It’s not like we didn’t know. The amount of kids wasn’t a surprise, so this really shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

The city plans on building new schools in the area, as well as in the rest of Queens and the city, by 2019. On June 3, Katz met with parents and city officials in charge of school construction to discuss the new plans.

During the tour of the two schools, Katz introduced the principals to education officials who have been charged with managing Forest Hills and surrounding areas.

“People and their children shouldn’t have to wait this long to get into the schools near where they live,” Katz said. She noted that she has a 4-year-old son in PS 144 and those pre-K seats have filled up completely. And like kindergarten seats, there have been many families whose children were turned away due to overcrowding.

After the meeting, an Education Department spokesman said that an additional kindergarten class was added to PS 196 on 71-25 113th St. and two classes to PS 144 located at 93-02 69th Ave. Each class will hold 25 students for a total of 75 students between the two schools.

“We will continue working to ensure that as many students as possible receive an offer at their zoned school,” the spokesman said. “Further, our current capital plan includes funding for an additional 1,096 elementary and middle school seats that will serve the Forest Hills area.”

PS 144 has a kindergarten capacity of 100 seats and PS 196 can hold 150 kindergarteners, but more than 100 kids between the two schools were originally waitlisted, bouncing them off to other schools before the new classes were added, according to Department of Education officials.

Parents affected by the waitlisting from both schools have started a petition on change.org, with 651 signatures. They are hoping to pressure the city to come up with a more immediate solution so that students going into kindergarten the next school year will not have to go out of their neighborhoods.

“If the needs of the Forest Hills community have changed so much that so many children are being sent to other parts of the district, it is incumbent on the DOE to reassess its zones and placement process,” said Jen Swanson on the petition. “While needs certainly fluctuate from year to year, the number of people moving into our area for the outstanding schools is only going to get bigger.”

But with the new classes that have been added, there are no zoned students on the waitlist at PS 144 and the waitlist at PS 196 has been reduced, the education department spokesman said.

“As a result of our ongoing dialogue with families in Forest Hills, we have added an additional kindergarten class at PS 196 and two classes at PS 144. We will continue working to ensure that as many students as possible receive an offer at their zoned school. Further, our current capital plan includes funding for an additional 1,096 elementary and middle school seats that will serve the Forest Hills area.”

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