Worry grows as P.S. 150′s Chelsea move remains ‘on the table’

P.S. 150 parents and students showed their support for keeping the school Downtown at the Tribeca Film Festival's family fair earlier this year. Downtown Express file photo by Milo Hess

P.S. 150 parents and students showed their support for keeping the school Downtown at the Tribeca Film Festival’s family fair earlier this year. Downtown Express file photo by Milo Hess

By KAITLYN MEADE  |  (UPDATED JULY 31, 2013  |  ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JULY 24, 2013) Amid the panic and protests over moving Tribeca’s P.S. 150 elementary school to a new building in Chelsea next year, the city Department of Education appeared to be backing away from the proposal, but three months later, parents are discouraged that the plan is still, technically at least, on the books.

“We’re not as optimistic as we have been,” Wendy Chapman, a P.S. 150 parent and head of the school’s P.T.A., said at Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee meeting July 9.

Chapman subsequently said she felt the D.O.E. was playing “coy” with parents by not responding, despite widespread pressure to keep the school Downtown.

‘We’re not as optimistic as we have been.’

She said that the superintendent of District 2, Mariano Guzman, told her and several other parents at a June meeting with the Community Education Council that the plan to move P.S. 150 to Chelsea is still an option.

“What Guzman said, despite what the local politicians have said, is that Chelsea is still on the table,” Chapman said in a phone interview. She said the private comment left families wondering what will happen to their school in the next two years.

The initial outcry came in late April when parents were notified of the plan to shift the school in the fall of 2014, ending its one-class-per-grade-model at 334 Greenwich St. — which the D.O.E. deemed inefficient — and growing the school out in the Foundling Hospital site as a Chelsea and Village-zoned school.

While P.S. 150 is a “choice school,” it gives enrollment preference to Lower Manhattan students. The school also has a strong connection to Tribeca, with the entire school singing onstage during the Tribeca Film Festival and partnering with P.S. 234 and local restaurants for “Taste of Tribeca” to raise money for arts programs.

At this year’s “Taste” in May, P.S. 150 students wore hand-painted T-shirts and held up signs in protest.

The D.O.E. postponed its decision on the move until September, when it is set to issue an “educational impact” statement that would move the plan forward.

Chapman has said that 80 percent of parents do not want to send their kids to Chelsea, and some kindergarten parents, most of whom live in Lower Manhattan, have already dropped their places at the “choice school” in favor of zoned schools near where they live.

“This fall, if the D.O.E. issues the educational impact statement for us to go to Chelsea, I’m sure the immediate response is that more families will push back into their zoned schools,” said Chapman.

One recent D.O.E. move that is seen as positive by the Downtown advocates — finding space in Tribeca’s P.S. 234 for its waitlisted students  —  also has the effect of making it easier for the city to move P.S. 150 out of the neighborhood.  P.S. 150 was going to take a kindergarten class of waitlisted students and had that happened, it would have been more problematic to move the school since it could have forced families who enrolled in their zoned neighborhood school into a “choice” school miles away.

“Clearly, [Guzman] is in a bit of a bind,” Paul Hovitz, co-chairperson of C.B. 1’s Youth and Ed Committee, told Downtown Express. “They want to grow that Foundling School all grades at once and the only way to do that is to pull one class per grade into the school. And since they don’t want P.S. 150 to function as it does now [one class per grade], it works well with their plan, on paper at least. They have this, ‘build it and they will come’ mentality, but it doesn’t work in this case.”

But Hovitz said that there is “every reason for 150 parents to hope that their kids are going to continue going to school Downtown.”

The D.O.E. has acknowledged a need for 1,000 school seats in Lower Manhattan, and is expected to include an allotment in the city’s capital budget to build a new, large elementary below Canal St. The hope is that P.S. 150 would stay in its current location for the next few years as a temporary space for this new school rather than using its one-class-per-grade to populate classrooms in the Foundling School.

But until the capital budget is approved in November, the D.O.E. will probably not change its official stance, said Hovitz.

“Officially, the D.O.E. and the [School Construction Authority] can’t do anything until funding occurs,” said parent Buxton Midyette. “That’s why it is so important that P.S. 150 be considered part of the overcrowding.”

A recent letter signed by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Borough President Scott Stringer, Assemblymember Deborah Glick, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Councilmember Margaret Chin urged Chancellor Walcott to officially postpone the discussions on moving P.S. 150 until the D.O.E. clarifies its plans to address local elementary school needs.

Walcott’s spokesperson, Devon Puglia, wrote in an email “We’re continuing to listen to feedback and ensuring a transparent process, and that’s going to continue as we consider the resiting.”

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