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Parents’ Real Estate Strategy: Schools Come First

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A pact with the city? No such thing. Are people really this stupid?

When Ann and Jonathan Binstock started shopping for an apartment in Manhattan in 2007, their first call was not to a real estate broker. Instead, they hired an educational consultant, to show them where the best schools for their daughter, Ellen, were. After the consultant suggested the most desirable zones , they chose a two-bedroom apartment near Public School 87 on the Upper West Side. Public records show it cost $1.975 million.

Ms. Binstock said the family’s apartment “was a stretch financially.”

“We ended up buying the apartment that we live in now based on the schools,” she added. “All of our money is in our little two-bedroom apartment.”

Now Ellen is entering second grade, and the Binstocks are finding that plenty of other parents shared their real estate strategy: P.S. 87 has become so overcrowded with students that, in first grade, Ellen had no gym class, and her lunch started before 11 a.m. It has a waiting list. The Binstocks heard that a neighboring school, P.S. 199, was also crowded, with its own waiting list.

Families like the Binstocks helped raise the tide of New York real estate prices in recent years by bypassing the suburbs and, instead, paying premium prices for apartments near high-performing public schools in places like TriBeCa and the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and Park Slope in Brooklyn. Developers, in turn, built costly family-sized apartments near the same schools, knowing they would draw parents hoping to avoid the cost of a private education.

But there were never any guarantees. Schools fill up. Zones are altered by the Department of Education, which sometimes switches the blocks that each zone comprises. Children in New York City, after all, are guaranteed a public education, but not necessarily in the school that their parents want, or in the one that is closest.

Building more schools goes a long way toward easing the problem, of course, but it is an expensive remedy, especially in stressed economic times. That is one reason the city often requires builders of ambitious projects to include a place that helps the public, like a school, in their plans.

All of these issues are wrapped up in a struggle on the Upper West Side between parents like the Binstocks who want more classrooms — many more — and the developer of a new project who is offering to build a school that some say is not big enough. The issue — and the emotional and financial repercussions that go with it — resonates with families across the city.

The parents are pushing Extell Development, which is in the process of getting approval for its Riverside Center Development, to build an even larger school than the one it has promised. The local community board plans to vote on this project, which includes the push for the larger school, on July 22.

While the school may not even be completed for six to eight years, parents want it to accommodate the young families expected to move to the neighborhood during that time. They argue that a developer who profits financially from selling apartments to families who live there for the schools should chip in more.

“This overcrowding has been caused to a fair extent by overbuilding,” said Noah E. Gotbaum, president of District 3’s Community Education Council, which approves zoning lines for West Side schools, including the proposed Riverside Center school. “This school has got to be big,” he said. “It’s got to be paid for by the developer and it’s got to be among the first buildings built.”

Extell Development has already offered to build a 75,000-square-foot school for 480 students for children in kindergarten through eighth grade, according to a May 3 letter from Extell to the School Construction Authority. The developer would pay to build the “core and shell” of the school, which is standard, and the interiors and classrooms would be paid for by the School Construction Authority.

Gary Barnett, Extell’s president, agreed that schools had become a “very important consideration citywide” and that city-dwelling families valued schools as much as their suburban counterparts. But, he said that the School Construction Authority was “where we take our direction from.”

Extell said it would build a school double the original size, as long as the School Construction Authority paid the additional construction costs.

Parents say that is not big enough. They want Extell to build a school that accommodates six classes per grade or roughly 1,250 students, and they want Extell to pay for more of it.

Rachel Laiserin, co-president of the P.S. 87 Parents Association, said that at her school the number of incoming kindergartners more than doubled, to 241 in 2010 from 93 in 2007. She added that these numbers were only going to grow, based on the growing presence of Gymborees and baby stores in the neighborhood.

“You literally see more strollers everywhere,” Ms. Laiserin said.

Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Department of Education, pointed out that other schools in the district that includes P.S. 87 have not even been filled yet.

“When you look at the whole Upper West Side, you see some schools that are at capacity and some that aren’t,” he said. “It’s important that we effectively use the space we already have.”

But Joe Fiordaliso, the father of two girls, said the debate was more about the department delivering what it promised. His 4-year-old daughter, Camilla, is on the waiting list at P.S. 199.

While Camilla has been admitted to another public school, the Fiordalisos say they hope she is accepted at P.S. 199, because her admission should make it easier for her 2-year-old sister, Rose, to attend there. The family is renting a 900-square-foot apartment across the street from P.S. 199 until learning whether Camilla got off the waiting list.

“Has my family sacrificed to stay in this zone? Absolutely,” Mr. Fiordaliso said. “When we made the decision to stay in the city, we entered into a pact with the city. That pact was that my child would go to his or her zoned school.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/nyregion/13appraisal.html

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I can't get over the 1.97 million price tag for a 2 bedroom apt. I would have looked for a place 1/8th the cost and hired a personal tutor for my child.

The rich aren't like us. They aim high.

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I went to a good private school - 5,000 a year. Why would they bother paying so much for public school?

Good private schools in Jersey are all 15k+. I can't imagine what the costs are in Manhattan.

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