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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | The city Department of Education, at the urging of Downtown parents, has devised a new proposal to rezone schools in Lower Manhattan. The only problem is some parents are still unhappy with the plan.
At Community Education Council District Two’s Nov. 8 zoning committee meeting, Elizabeth Rose, the D.O.E.’s portfolio planning director, presented a new school zoning map for District Two elementary schools, following an initial proposal that received much criticism by parents from Tribeca and the Financial District.
Diverging from the previous proposal, the Department’s latest plan avoids zoning elementary students south of Canal Street for P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village. However, the new plan, if implemented, would send youngsters who live east of West Broadway, from Canal Street to Chambers Street, to the Alfred E. Smith School (P.S. 1) in Chinatown.
Since P.S. 234 is busting at the seams, children in the southern half of Tribeca, meanwhile, would be assigned to the Spruce Street School (P.S. 397).
The new zoning method, Rose said, is “the best way” the department could reapportion enrollment. She said the “big message” that was clear in the parents’ feedback on the previous plan was not wanting their children to have to cross Canal Street in order to go to a West Village school. Rose added, “At the same time, we have to recognize that the P.S. 234 zone is still large; and so, how will we best address the excess demand at P.S. 234 and take advantage of all the capacity that we have available?”
P.S. 1 can accommodate at least one additional class section per grade, Rose said — contradicting former statements made by P.S. 1 Principal Amy Hom that the K-5 school only has room for an extra kindergarten class.
“There is nobody here crossing underneath the Brooklyn Bridge yet to [go to] school,” Rose pointed out, addressing parents’ previous complaints about the potentially dangerous commute to P.S. 1.
Rose nonetheless assured parents that this route would be safe, in the event that children would have to use it to get to school.
“I crossed underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, there are several walkways underneath the Brooklyn Bridge… it is not unsafe, but we certainly understand it is not the most attractive crossing,” said Rose.
The D.O.E. is also proposing to expand the Spruce Street School zone to encompass more of the central Financial District — specifically, to include children who live above Liberty Street and as far east as Nassau Street rather than Broadway.
Meanwhile, Financial District children that reside east of Nassau Street, above Liberty Street — and east of Broadway, below Liberty Street — would be assigned to the Peck Slip school, which will incubate at Tweed Courthouse until it moves into its permanent home at One Peck Slip in 2015.
Despite Rose’s explanation of the new proposal, many people remained unsatisfied.
“I’m disappointed — I thought we were pretty clear we didn’t want to slice [Tribeca] at all,” said Michael Markowitz, co-chair of C.E.C. District 2’s rezoning committee. We want a fundamentally different proposal before us.”
Instead of having to cross Canal Street, some Tribeca families will now have to walk through the Civic Center twice a day to get to P.S. 1, Markowitz noted.
“They’d rather take their chances of a lottery [at P.S. 234] — knowing it was going to be an overcrowded zone,” said Markowitz. “That way, everybody would have a chance [to be offered a seat at the school].”
“You guys are really just rearranging the chairs on the Titanic,” said Paul Hovitz, co-chair of Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee.
The P.S. 234 zone should be left as is, Hovitz argued, while Southbridge Towers should be zoned for the Spruce Street School.
“What’s going to happen is, we’re going to be rezoning every year until we get the number of schools that we should have — and we can end up with families having their three children in three different schools,” said Hovitz.
The rezoning plan is bound to fail and will “decimate” P.S. 1, according to P.S. 234 parent Tricia Joyce.
“It’s a different proposal [than the last one],” said Joyce, “but it’s really the same. We’re taking a small amount of blocks that represent a couple of handfuls of children and we’re sending them a long distance to another neighborhood, when we have 1200 more children coming up in Lower Manhattan.”
P.S. 1 has “generously welcomed extra children that we have that can’t fit. But we’re talking 7 to 10 children — not 300,” Joyce continued. “Over that, we will be dismantling our C.T.T. [Collaborative Team Teaching] expansion, we will have to put art and science on carts, and we will have to give up all of those things that make the school special.”
Hovitz and others also objected to the scant amount of time Downtown families had to review the proposal before commenting on it. C.E.C. District 2’s president, Shino Tanikawa, complained that the D.O.E. didn’t fulfill the C.E.C.’s wish to circulate the new map before the meeting.
“I saw the proposals at 5:30 in the evening, before I came to the meeting,” said Tanikawa.
“I honestly think it is unfair to have everybody in this room, including parents and community members… to, on the fly, [have to] respond,” chimed in C.B. 1 Chair Julie Menin.
The C.E.C. District 2 will vote on the proposal on Wed., Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m. at 333 W. 17th St. In the meantime, Downtown will have other chances to give feedback on the new school zoning proposal, at C.E.C. District 2’s monthly calendar meeting, on Wed., Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Adolph S. Ochs School (P.S./I.S. 111, 440 W. 53rd St.); at a town hall on rezoning, on Mon., Nov. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 130 (143 Baxter St.); and at another town hall with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, on Dec. 7 ad 6 p.m., location T.B.A.