Volume 22, Number 30 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 4 - 10, 2009
Careful with school plans now and in the future
There are few issues that can trigger as much divisiveness as school zoning. Deciding which children get to go to which public schools goes to the heart of class, race and ethnicity, so we’re not at all surprised that recent meetings on Lower Manhattan school zones have been heated.
The city Dept. of Education is consulting with parents and community groups to figure out the best way to zone two new schools — Spruce Street and P.S./I.S. 276 — in order to relieve the overcrowding problems at P.S. 234 and P.S. 89.
The city and the Community Education Council, made up mostly of parents, have correctly concluded that the issues and implications are far too complicated to come up with a permanent plan in time for the February kindergarten registration period. They have two options for a temporary plan that would be in place for at least a year or two.
Neither option is fair to everyone, but that is impossible because of the locations of Lower Manhattan’s schools. Some kids will not be able to go to the school closest to their homes no matter what.
That said, there should be minor adjustments to the options before one is picked. The city should take parents’ and other comments seriously. The D.O.E. has resisted efforts to make zoning decisions based on future population projections, but that should be a factor so there is less disruption once a permanent plan is selected down the road. The plan that is selected this year should also be labeled “TEMPORARY” in large letters on every map so parents who have not even moved to Lower Manhattan yet do not make housing decisions based on false assumptions.
One change that must be made is the ill-advised division at the 101 Warren St./89 Murray St. building. The developer received government subsidies for affordable housing which unfortunately allowed him to segregate the lower-income renters from the high-income luxury condo owners. To then let the condo children attend the higher-demand P.S. 234 across the street while 89 Murray renters are sent further away would only exacerbate a bad public policy decision. This complex must be kept together.
Spruce Street staff and parents have been made to feel second rate through this process, when in fact this new school is off to a wonderful start. We understand the desire to attend the perennially-high ranked P.S. 234, but Spruce Street is justifiably proud after its first three months.
In fact, it’s not a far-fetched possibility that Spruce will be the more desired zone in a few years. The school is supposed to grow into a K-8, which means kindergarten parents accepted there will have a guaranteed middle school seat for their children and be able to avoid a stressful application process. That may be one reason why many Gateway Plaza parents are fighting to be zoned for P.S./I.S. 276 instead of P.S. 89.
The growing mix of K-8s and traditional middle schools in District 2 — which covers an enormous chunk of Manhattan — will likely lead to unfair situations. Geography perhaps should be one of several factors in middle school applications. The only way to do that fairly throughout the district is to take a long time to consider the issues and consult with everyone. The time to start is immediately after the temporary plan is selected.