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BY ALINE REYNOLDS | The Department of Education’s latest school rezoning proposal was unanimously struck down, yet again, last week. The rejection could mean the Peck Slip elementary school will not get its own zone before it incubates in Tweed Courthouse next fall.
At its monthly calendar meeting on Nov. 16, Community Education Council District Two voted 8-0 against the D.O.E.’s latest rezoning plan, which has received mostly negative feedback from parents since it was first unveiled earlier this month.
The C.E.C. evaluated the plan as early as possible in hopes that the D.O.E. would come up with a new proposal before the year’s end, according to C.E.C. District Two Zoning Committee Co-Chair Eric Goldberg.
“Not one community said, ‘yes, this is a good idea,’ from areas in Tribeca to Chinatown,” said Goldberg. “That was why we moved quickly to try and get started again.”
Come C.E.C. members may consider taking legal action against the D.O.E. if it doesn’t submit a new plan in a timely manner, according to C.E.C. District Two President Shino Tanikawa. Typically, rezoning plans are finalized by the spring before the effected schools open.
“Technically, they could play it dirty and say, ‘you voted down the final proposal, so we’re not going to give you another one,’” said Tanikawa. “If they did that… it would probably get into a legal debate.”
“I’m hoping it won’t come to it,” added Tanikawa. “We have a good working relationship with the D.O.E. and do not want anything to jeopardize it.”
Tanikawa also noted that she was confident Elizabeth Rose, the D.O.E.’s director of planning for Lower Manhattan, would offer up another proposal.
The School Chancellor’s regulations don’t state whether zoning a new school is mandatory — however, D.O.E. Spokesperson Frank Thomas said that it isn’t, noting that both P.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School (P.S. 397) opened in 2009 without new zones.
Thomas wouldn’t specify a time frame for a new proposal for Peck Slip, nor would he explicitly confirm that a new rezoning plan was indeed in the works.
“We are disappointed in the C.E.C.’s wholesale rejection of a plan that incorporated significant community feedback and addressed enrollment growth in Lower Manhattan,” said Thomas. “Under this administration, we have made an unprecedented investment in new school space Downtown, and we will continue to build upon that success as we reexamine our rezoning proposal.”
In a written resolution rejecting the Nov. 6 proposal, the C.E.C. focused on Downtown school overcrowding, requesting that the D.O.E. reassess its enrollment projections and start to “immediately” plan for a new Lower Manhattan elementary school.
The Peck Slip School will not be able to accommodate Downtown’s forthcoming school-age population on its own, and P.S. 1’s surplus capacity is uncertain, according to the resolution.
“The number of seats at P.S. 1 claimed to be available, according to the D.O.E., would only meet an insignificant fraction of the growth in school age population projected by an independent analysis,” stated the resolution.
In a Nov. 21 letter to School Chancellor Dennis Walcott, NYS Senator Daniel Squadron urged the D.O.E. to craft a new zoning plan.
“The revised zoning proposal poses a significant challenge to the C.E.C. and the
community,” wrote Squadron. “Insufficient data makes hard decisions about the future of our community schools that much more difficult. I urge you to work closely with C.E.C. 2 in the preparation of a zoning proposal that reduces waitlists and creates a new zone for the Peck Slip School.”
In his letter, Squadron also urged the D.O.E. to consider moving some of its administrative offices to World Trade Center 4 or another neighborhood office facility in the coming years in order to free up additional classroom space at Tweed Courthouse.
“With many new students, additional sections [in existing Downtown schools] will require the conversion of the art, music, science, computer, resource, and family rooms into classroom spaces, depriving the teachers and students of much-needed space for its high-needs population,” wrote Squadron.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver issued a statement saying the C.E.C.’s rejection reinforced his long-held view about the D.O.E’s methodology when it comes to rezoning schools in Lower Manhattan.
“Shifting around students and sending them outside our communities to go to school is not an acceptable response to our overcrowding problem,” said Silver. “My Overcrowding Task Force has helped build several new schools in Lower Manhattan, addressing some of the long-term challenges we face. In the short-term, the D.O.E. ought to be looking at solutions that keep children within communities, perhaps by leasing additional space here in Lower Manhattan. We need to create a new zone to accommodate the Peck Slip school and the D.O.E. must heed the wishes of the community and not submit another plan that pushes students outside of our neighborhoods.”
Whether or not a new rezoning plan comes to fruition before the new year, Goldberg said he is hopeful a plan will be presented and approved by next year. “The D.O.E. would like to see a zone for Peck Slip,” he said, “so I believe we’re going to get there.”