November 9, 2011
District 2′s Community Education Council is facing a catch-22: Approve the three rezoning plans presented by the Department of Education last night, with all of their wrinkles, or risk missing a chance to solve crowding problems this year.
After parents criticized a first draft of the plans last month, department officials brought new rezoning maps – one for the Upper East Side, one for the West Village/Chelsea, and one for Lower Manhattan – to the council’s meeting last night. The plans, which council members had not seen before the meeting, address some problems but introduce others, according to Shino Tanikawa, the council’s president.
The Upper East Side plan was minimally altered, while the West Village/Chelsea plan had significant changes. P.S. 3 and P.S. 41, which currently share a single choice zone, will be split into two separate zones. Moreover, the P.S. 41 zone would include inside of it the future zone lines for the Foundling School, which is set to open in 2014.
The main point of contention involves the Lower Manhattan plan which would send some addresses currently zoned for Tribeca’s P.S. 234 and others currently zoned for P.S. 397, the new Spruce Street School, to P.S. 1 in Chinatown, a far less affluent school with many immigrant students. Last summer, families on P.S. 234′s waiting list resisted when they were offered places at another Chinatown school, P.S. 130.
Some parents said the change would damage the neighborhoods’ sense of identity. But Tricia Joyce, a P.S. 234 parent and a co-chair of the school’s overcrowding committee, said the bigger problem is that P.S. 1 could become overcrowded.
“The proposals are all just overcrowding the schools around us for an insignificant gain,” Joyce said. “Rezoning does not create seats and seats are what we need.”
The DOE added 180 seats to the area last week when it upped the size of a forthcoming school, Peck Slip, but Joyce said that is not enough. Last month, she helped pass a resolution by Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee that rejects the idea of rezoning altogether in favor of building more schools.
Community members will have another chance to share concerns before the council’s vote, but Tanikawa said DOE officials made it clear that the plan is closed to any major revisions, although they would be open to minor adjustments. At this point, the council is not allowed to suggest new zone lines, only approve or reject the lines the department proposes.
Tanikawa said she might seek legal advice about whether the CEC could approve some elements of the proposals while rejecting others.
Without that option, the council is risking waiting a year to rezone if it pushes back too hard on the department’s proposed rezoning. That would leave the Peck Slip school to open next fall in Tweed Courthouse without zoned students, making it essentially an overflow school for students in crowded schools across Lower Manhattan.
“What the DOE has done is created a Peck Slip zone by also putting in a highly unpalatable proposal,” Tanikawa said. “It would make it impossible to build a strong, viable community that way.”
She also said that the council and families in District 2 hadn’t had adequate time to evaluate the department’s proposal, which was not released until the meeting began.
“People didn’t have anything to react to. If we were able to distribute the proposals before the meeting people could have come out and said ‘this is great’ or ‘this is horrible’ or whatever,” Tanikawa said. “We wanted a good feedback session last night, otherwise we were wasting our time and the parents who showed up were wasting their time.”