I grew up in the White Plains public schools, and after coming to appreciate how special they are, returned here to raise my children in the same schools. I’ve currently got a 3rd grader and a Kindergartener, and I’m glad I made that decision to return here.
But I’m worried.
I’m worried that our public schools in White Plains have been growing too fast, have become too big, and are in jeopardy of losing the special character that brought me back here.
To examine the issue, let’s start with some facts, and from there consider whether anything needs to change in order to be sure that our White Plains public schools retain the character that has made them so special.
The School District’s Budget for 2014-15, on the opening “Overview” page, tells us that “Since 1989, the enrollment increase has totaled 45%, or an increase of 2,207 students.” It also tells us at page C-12 that the total number of students for 2014-15 was 7,059, as shown here:
Current data for this school year tells us that our enrollment is 7,266 (see image below). That’s growth of a bit more than 200 students since the 2014-15 school year.
At the present moment, our city’s website proudly boasts that WP is the “fastest growing city in New York State.”
According to current data from the School District, presented to the public in July 2018, the school where my kids are currently enrolled (Ridgeway) will be at 108% of capacity before they’re both out, and the high school will be at 103% of capacity before they enroll, as shown here:
That’s only part of the story, though. White Plains has multiple approved residential buildings “in the pipeline,” which are projected to bring large numbers of additional students to our schools. To name but a few, we’ve got projects in the pipeline at the White Plains Mall, on Westchester Avenue (the empty Ford dealership), North Broadway (the Good Counsel site), South Broadway (the former Westchester Pavillion), the AT&T Building, and Post Road (the empty lot across from Paulding’s Cycle Shop). Looking at just one of these many approved projects, the problem starts to come into focus. Namely, Hamilton Green’s developers, in their Draft Environmental Impact Statement from July 2017, estimated that their project alone will add 132 students to our District, as shown here:
At the time Hamilton Green’s developers sought approval, the District was projecting its enrollment to peak in 2020-21 at 7,204 students, as shown here:
But, since the developer submitted its DEIS, our numbers have increased. According to numbers the District presented to the public in July 2018, we are already – during the current school year – above the then-projected peak of 7,204. Our new predicted peak is 7,438, more than 200 students higher than the projected peak just a few years ago, as shown here:
SO, DO WE HAVE A PROBLEM? IF SO, WHAT SHOULD WE DO ABOUT IT?
I don’t think we need to panic. Our district is currently strong, and I’m happy to have my kids enrolled in it. Whatever negative change might have occurred since I attended, and whatever problems we are facing, I still think there’s much to celebrate about our district. Plus, 1989 is a long time ago. Growth of more than 50% sounds dramatic, but that’s over a 30-year period, and we’ve had plenty of time to absorb the higher number of students.
That’s the good news. The bad news, as I see it, is that the reason we don’t have more of a problem now is that lots of new residential buildings which the City has approved have not been built yet. Instead, they sit as holes in the ground, or empty vacated structures. If these do get built, it seems to me that we’ll have to scramble to find the space and money to expand the number of classrooms in which students are learning.
People of good faith can debate how big of a problem we have, but it seems relatively clear that we are at least at risk of a potentially big problem. I encourage citizens of WP to ask these questions of our elected officials and city administrators (both in City Hall and Ed House) as we move forward:
- When developers seek approval for their projects, what assumptions are they making about our District’s capacity? They seem to be assuming that our schools have the space to take on more students, even though the District’s projections already expect some of our schools to be over capacity soon. Most recently, the developer behind the project called “The Flats at Westchester” estimated that their project will add 30-31 students, and they say “…there would likely be no significant adverse impact to the School District’s ability to accommodate the 30-31 students from the proposed project, since they represent such a relatively small percentage of the total district enrollment.” What is the basis for a developer’s assumption that our schools – especially our high school – have space to take on more students?
- When the School District makes projections about future enrollment, what assumptions is it making about if – and when – the currently-stagnant projects will get built?
- Lastly, are there pressures on our School District enrollment independent of the new residential buildings in White Plains, and, if so, what are those pressures?
To conclude… White Plains is on the brink of a potentially big problem. But, if we, as a community, acknowledge the problem, advance a transparent exchange of information, and foster an active community conversation, I am confident we can address it, and enable our public schools to retain the special character which brought me back here.