Volume 22, Number 11 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 31 - August 6, 2009
School planning the way it ought to be
“Consult with the community before the decision is made” is a suggestion we’ve made many times before. Community leaders and activists often bring their knowledge, passion and neighborhood-interest to issues, helping turn bad plans into good ones. Usually we make this point when government officials are ignoring community concerns. It’s also worth mentioning when officials do the right thing, particularly now when the issue is as important as deciding who gets to attend which school.
As we report this week, the city’s Dept. of Education has suggested two new ways to rezone the Lower Manhattan schools to prepare for the opening of two new K-8’s. Education officials presented two options to Downtown parents and principals who have been focused on how to relieve the area’s school overcrowding problems — a group formed last year by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver
City officials made it clear at this week’s invitation-only meeting that they were open to either zoning option and also indicated an openness to making other changes. The D.O.E. also plans to present the plan to District 2’s Community Education Council at a public meeting even though technically for the time being, the C.E.C.’s no longer exist since the State Senate allowed the school governance law to expire during its recent and embarrassing stalemate. Even more remarkably, the District 2 council recently filed a lawsuit against the D.O.E., so we would not have been surprised if officials were unwilling to go beyond what the law required.
Consulting with the local council, Silver’s task force, and to Community Board 1, which D.O.E. plans to do in September, are indications of changes for the better. The taskforce has made much progress despite many setbacks along the way. Parents would often leave meetings satisfied with answers they got from city education officials only to find out later things were not as they seemed.
While it would have been better if the D.O.E. had taken the suggestions to begin discussing these zoning issues that came a few years ago from us and others, we’re glad the day has finally come. We recognize that many parents would want certainty now as they weigh private school options and prepare for applications for 2010, but our bigger concern was that the city would present what amounted to a final plan without giving anyone much chance to make changes.
Each option addresses important concerns of many parents. Under one, there would be four new zones for the two new schools, Spruce Street and P.S./I.S. 276, and the two existing overcrowded ones, P.S. 234 and P.S. 89. This would provide parents with much more certainty, avoid an acrimonious application process, and would also aid prospective Downtowners looking for a new home.
The second option would create a large Downtown school zone giving parents the choice to pick the school that best fits their needs. If too many picked one school, priority would be given to those living closest to the school. That could make the middle school selection process fairer because students in the new schools will have a guaranteed seat close to home since those schools will go to eighth grade, whereas the existing elementary schools only go to fifth.
The early reviews on the options favor No. 1. We’ve already heard some good suggestions from community leaders on possible adjustments to the plans and we’re confident there will be others as more people learn more. Sounds like the best way to get the best plan.