Volume 22, Number 29 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 27 - December 3, 2009
The Dept. of Education is considering two temporary zoning options for four Lower Manhattan schools, and many Tribeca parents are hoping to be included in the P.S. 234 zone (green). Some parents at Spruce Street School (blue), which opened in September, have taken offense at being described as the less desirable school. Under both options, the zone for P.S. 276 (purple) will be south of Albany St., Liberty St. and Maiden La., and the area for P.S. 89 (orange) will cover Battery Park City north of Albany St. Enlarge maps.
Tribeca feeling divided as school zone plans split the nabe
By Julie Shapiro
No matter where the lines are drawn in the rezoning of Lower Manhattan’s schools, one thing is certain: P.S. 234 will not be able to hold all of Tribeca.
This fact is shaping the debate over who will go to each of Downtown’s four schools. Since the city presented two temporary zoning options last week, the Dept. of Education has heard only one kind of feedback.
“We’re not actually hearing any…conceptual responses” about neighborhood boundaries, said Elizabeth Rose, director of portfolio planning at the D.O.E. “The only responses we are getting are, ‘Is my address in the 234 zone? If yes, fine. If no, I’m unhappy and will let everybody know.’”
Many of those unhappy parents live at 89 Murray St., the half of the Whole Foods building that includes affordable rentals. Under one of the proposals, 89 Murray would be zoned not for P.S. 234, which is one block away, but for the Spruce Street School, which is half a mile away. Meanwhile, the other half of the Whole Foods building, which has luxury condos and an address at 101 Warren St., is zoned for P.S. 234 in both proposals.
“Tribeca is our neighborhood,” said Ilya Mazur, who lives at 89 Murray and has a 2-year-old son. “A lot of us can see [P.S. 234] from our windows. We can hear the school. This breaks the neighborhood for us.”
The building’s owner also said the split was unfair.
“I just don’t understand,” said Michael Abreu, director of asset management for the Sheldrake Organization. “The school is right across the street.”
About half of 89 Murray’s residents live in low or middle-income units, subsidized by a $15 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., while the rest are market-rate. Abreu and Mazur both said the proximity of the school is particularly important for the affordable housing tenants, who need to get to work in the morning and can’t afford nannies to ferry their kids across town to Spruce Street.
Rose unveiled the two zoning proposals at a packed meeting of the District 2 Community Education Council last week. Parents immediately bent over the maps, whispering to each other and pointing out which blocks were included or excluded. The idea behind the zones — which are not permanent but will be in place for at least a year — is to guarantee a seat for every kindergartener in their zoned school next year.
The city’s Option 1 draws a short, wide zone for P.S. 234, taking students in Tribeca all the way from West St. to Lafayette St., but only down to Warren St. (west of Church St.) and Chambers St. (east of Church St.). In Option 2, P.S. 234 would take students from a narrower slice of Tribeca, from West St. to Church St., and the zone would go all the way down to Liberty St.
“It is probably impossible to come up with zone lines that make everyone happy,” Rose said as she presented the plans.
Parents at 270 Broadway/80 Chambers St. and on the eastern end of Warren St. have complained about being left out of P.S. 234 under both options, and some parents on Broadway north of Chambers St. are against Option 2 because it puts them out of the Tribeca school’s zone.
Rose said the zones were primarily based on the distribution of kindergarten and first-grade students this year. A D.O.E. spokesperson later said in an e-mail that the location of affordable housing units did not factor into the proposals.
Rose said the advantage of Option 2 is that it includes more of what is typically considered Tribeca, but the disadvantage is that it will give some children in the farther reaches of the zones a longer walk to school.
Younger siblings will be given priority at all four Lower Manhattan schools, regardless of how the zone lines are drawn.
Ellen Offen, educational director of Park Preschool, said Option 2 makes more sense because it includes Murray St., which she and others said is unequivocally part of Tribeca. She said some of the parents at Park Preschool are looking into private schools because of the uncertainty in the zoning, which last year resulted in a lottery. Offen pointed out that many parents moved to Tribeca because of P.S. 234 and are now concerned about not getting into the school.
Some brokers have referred to P.S. 234 in marketing campaigns, although Terry Lautin, a broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman, said she has been told that brokers are not allowed to use public schools when marketing a property. Lautin said she usually directs prospective buyers to InsideSchools.org if they ask about the local schools, but many families that are looking for apartments in Lower Manhattan have already researched the schools themselves.
Lisa Ripperger, principal of P.S. 234, said she had no preference on the zoning lines. No matter what, the rezoning means big changes for her school, which until now has taken children from the Seaport and Financial District in addition to all of Tribeca. The advantage is that P.S. 234 will now have closer to the right number of students rather than being overcrowded; the disadvantage is that the school will lose some of its diversity under either option.
“I am concerned about less economic — as well as less racial and ethnic — diversity,” Ripperger said. “I don’t have an easy way to resolve that. I empathize with people’s concerns, but I feel my hands are tied.”
Tina Schiller, who lives in the Seaport and has a third-grade daughter at P.S. 234, said the changes may not be for the better.
“It is going to officially cut off Tribeca and make it a gilded city within a city,” Schiller said. “That just makes me so sad because of where we’ve come from and how the school used to be.”
But Kathryn Fay, whose daughter is in first grade at P.S. 234, said the school benefits from having well-off families help with fundraising, and there’s not that much economic diversity left in Lower Manhattan generally.
While the zoning lines go through a block-by-block battle, Fay added that it’s important not to lose sight of the larger goal: getting class sizes down.
“Ultimately, everybody suffers if there are too many kids in a class,” Fay said. When classes are overcrowded, “Community is a moot point,” she said.
Whichever sections of Tribeca are not zoned for P.S. 234 will be zoned for the Spruce Street School. Spruce will cover the Seaport, parts of the Financial District and the Civic Center, and either southwest Tribeca (Option 1) or northeast Tribeca (Option 2).
Nancy Harris, principal of Spruce, said she did not have an opinion on where the lines are drawn. But Harris added that the parents at her school are getting tired of hearing it portrayed as a less desirable option than 234 just because Spruce is new.
Learan Kahanov, whose son is in kindergarten at Spruce, said in an e-mail that he is frustrated by the attitude that Spruce “is a ‘lesser school’ for ‘lesser’ income and status families…. The Tribeca ‘elite’ who think west of Broadway is somehow superior are sorely mistaken. They might have more cash flow and louder voices, but that is about where the differences lie.”
One advantage of Spruce Street and P.S./I.S. 276, the other new school Downtown, is that they are K-8’s, giving children in the elementary school an automatic middle school seat.
That was one consideration for Shabnam Boettle, a Battery Park City resident who decided to send her daughter to the Spruce Street School. Boettle also liked the community among Spruce’s parent body, and the fact that her daughter is in a class with only 15 children. Location was not a big factor, Boettle added, since there is a school bus.
The school zones for P.S. 89 and P.S./I.S. 276 have been getting less discussion and are the same under both of the city’s proposals. Under those plans, P.S. 89 would take students from northern Battery Park City (down to Albany St.) and P.S. 276 would take students from southern B.P.C. (below Albany St.) and the southern Financial District (below Liberty St.). The line was drawn to include all of the Gateway Plaza apartment complex in P.S. 89, though a handful of parents there say they want to be given the option to attend P.S. 276 instead.
The Community Education Council will likely vote on one of the temporary zoning plans (or a modification of one of them) at its December meeting. The city hopes to have a plan in place by the end of the year, well before the kindergarten registration period of Feb. 1 to March 12. The council hopes to pick up the issue of permanent zoning lines in December and have it resolved by April.
To get parent feedback on the proposals, the C.E.C. will hold two meetings in Lower Manhattan. One will be Mon., Nov. 30 at P.S. 89 at 6:30 p.m. and the other will be 6: 30 p.m. Wed., Dec. 9, at 250 Broadway, 19th floor. Parents can also e-mail comments to the C.E.C. at D2zoning@gmail.com.