The Department of Education’s third — and likely final — proposal for rezoning in Manhattan’s District 2 received a lukewarm reception from Lower Manhattan parents at a public hearing Monday night.
DOE officials retracted some of the more controversial elements of the department’s rezoning proposal but warned that some overcrowded schools would not see relief, prompting grumbling from parents who had come to urge the officials to build more schools in the district.
In the revised plan, unveiled this week, Tribeca’s popular P.S. 234 and the Greenwich Village’s P.S. 41 and P.S. 3 will not be rezoned. Two of the original proposals, which called for the rezoning of schools in Lower Manhattan, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village, were unanimously rejected by the District 2 CEC earlier this month.
Now, the rezoning’s only major effect would be to trim some Lower Manhattan school zones to create a zone for the Peck Slip School, a new elementary school that is set to open in Tweed Courthouse next fall.
City officials, including deputy chancellors Marc Sternberg and Kathleen Grimm, said the change in plans was a response to vocal opposition from parents at P.S. 234, who argued that altering the school’s zone would change its character. But Sternberg and Grimm stressed that the tradeoff is that their latest proposal would not meet demand for school seats in the neighborhood. The parents had urged the officials to build more schools rather than shifting students among existing ones.
“You’re right to ask for more, but we don’t know if we can give you more,” Sternberg said. “We are looking for solutions where the money falls short, as it most certainly will.”
“I consider it much better than the previous proposal,” Tribeca parent Einar Westerland told the audience. But Westerland, whose 10-year-old son attends P.S. 234 and whose 3-year-old will enter kindergarten next fall, said he recognizes that the new plan for his school, which has a long wait list for admissions, will not change the demand on seats.
“I support the CEC suggestion that parents who are wait-listed be given some preference — to be put through a lottery system and sent to some arbitrary section of the city is not acceptable,” he added, referring to a part of the CEC’s proposal that would call for students who are zoned for the overcrowded schools but cannot finds seats to be given preference in the general lottery for schools.
CEC officials said the addition of the as-yet unzoned Peck Slip elementary school, which would incubate in Tweed Courthouse, the DOE headquarters, before being placed somewhere in Downtown Manhattan, would do too little to alleviate the district’s endemic overcrowding.
“We’re growing faster than we can build our way out of the problem,” council member Michael Markowitz said. “Peck Slip alone is not enough.”
Kelly Shannon, principal of P.S. 41, and Lisa Siegman, principal of P.S. 3, told officials at the meeting that they are happy preserve the schools’ shared zone in Chelsea and Greenwich Village. help both those schools managed enrollment in equitable ways so that every zoned family is given a spot in one of the two schools. Currently families in those areas can chose which school to attend, but the DOE’s original proposal would have split up the two schools.
About 30 of the parents at the packed meeting came from P.S. 116 in Murray Hill, which had not been affected by any of the rezoning plans but is also facing overcrowding. A new school set to open in 2013 is meant to siphon off over-enrollment there, but P.S. 116 parents have been waging a campaign to find relief sooner. Last night, they urged the department to open a new elementary school, for the area earlier than planned as an alternative to adding more kindergarten seats to their school.
Meera Wagman, whose son is in kindergarten at P.S. 116, urged officials to allow the new school, P.S. 281, to incubate in a satellite location while its building is under construction. P.S. 281 is scheduled to open in 2014.
Crowding at the school has put a strain on space, she said. “It’s unsafe, and it’s a bad environment for learning.”
“We have serious concerns about the incubation you’ve proposed,” Sternberg said, responding to a proposal the CEC put forth two weeks ago when it vetoed the rezoning plan. “But we are not ready to foreclose on it. We hope to find a solution that’s good for everybody. We may not.”