A meeting about overcrowding in Manhattan schools last night ended in surprising fashion: with the Department of Education being lauded for listening to parents.
Parents from one local school, the Clinton School for Writers and Artists, showed up to the meeting of the Community Education Council for District 2 in red, as planned, to protest the idea of their school moving. Hundreds of other parents arrived armed with protest signs and talking points about the need for more school seats in the district, which covers most of Manhattan below 59th Street and the Upper East Side. Advocates have criticized the DOE for understating the extent of crowding in the area.
But the mood relaxed after John White, the DOE official on hand, dispatched with the idea that Clinton would be asked to move. White said the DOE instead would try to ease crowding by finding a new space for Greenwich Village Middle School. That school is eager to move out of its current location on the top floor of the already overcrowded PS 3 building.
One potential site for the school, according to White: part of the state-owned office building at 75 Morton Street that parents and elected officials lobbied mightily last summer for the DOE to obtain. The state ultimately took the building off the market, but it isn’t using the seventh floor. Several elected officials, led by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, this week asked the DOE to reconsider using the space. White said the DOE is in the process of scheduling a walkthrough, the first step toward determining whether a space can become a public school.
“This is a huge shift,” said Irene Kaufman after the meeting. Kaufman is a founding member of the Public School Parent Advocacy Committee, a District 2-based group that has called for the DOE to address crowding in the district’s schools. She told me she is relieved to see the department acknowledge that moving Greenwich Village Middle School is essential to relieving the neighborhood’s space crunch.
If Morton Street doesn’t pan out, White said Greenwich Village Middle could relocate into one of the new downtown elementary schools, scheduled to come online in 2010 and 2011 with plenty of space to spare. The department would then have to move the middle school again, after the elementary schools expand.
Other space issues are yet to be resolved, including where a new middle school will be housed and what will happen if more children register for two Greenwich Village elementary schools, PS 3 and PS 41, than the schools can accommodate. But several parents said the DOE appears to be on the right track in the area.
“This is good news,” said Robert Ely, a neighborhood parent who has long argued for 75 Morton St. “That’s the bottom line. They’re actually listening.”