Volume 22, Number 33 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 25 - 31, 2009
Parents wonder if school zones will really be temporary
The latest option to zone Lower Manhattan’s elementary schools would send southwest Tribeca children to P.S. 89 instead of P.S. 234 and Gateway Plaza children to P.S. 276 instead of 89.
By Julie Shapiro
The fervor over school rezoning in Lower Manhattan continued to build this week after the city released a new proposal that would divert children in southern Tribeca from P.S. 234 to P.S. 89.
The proposal, dubbed “Option 3,” is based on the parent feedback the city received after floating its original two zoning options last month. Those original options are still under consideration as well, and the District 2 Community Education Council plans to make a final decision in the middle of January. The kindergarten application process begins in February.
All of the city’s proposals so far have set off a predictable cycle of praise and protest, based on where the lines are drawn. Largely missing from the vehement debate is the idea that these zones are temporary, intended to be in place for only one year.
Part of the reason that this is of little comfort to parents is that regardless of how temporary the zones are, the lines that are drawn this year will likely shape the upcoming debate on permanent zones. And even if the zones change dramatically in the future, this year’s lines will have an impact for years to come because younger siblings will be grandfathered into older siblings’ schools.
“They’re calling it temporary, but come on,” said Grace Flood, a member of the Greenwich Court condo board, at a meeting she organized Tuesday night for concerned parents.
“It’s not going to be temporary,” added Nicholas de Seve, who lives in the complex as well.
The Dept. of Education has not made the answer any clearer. At first, the D.O.E. wanted to put permanent zones in place for next fall, but the C.E.C. objected, saying they did not have enough data. Then, the D.O.E. agreed that it made sense to come up with final zones in the future, because so many new residential buildings are planned or under construction. The temporary zones the D.O.E. has proposed do not take future construction into account, and are based only on current kindergarten and first-grade populations in the schools.
However, now the D.O.E. is saying that that they have no plans to update the zones based on population projections, unless the C.E.C., made up of parents, initiates the process.
“A zone is in place until the Community Education Council passes a new zoning resolution,” said Elizabeth Rose, director of portfolio planning for the D.O.E., at a meeting held by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Monday. “So, the temporary-ness of this is truly up to the C.E.C.”
Rose said she hopes the zones won’t change too much in the future.
The most important thing is that the final zones are based on better data than the temporary zones now under discussion, said Shino Tanikawa, co-chairperson of the C.E.C.’s zoning committee. Tanikawa promised the C.E.C. would take up the permanent zoning issue once next year’s zones are settled.
The question of how temporary these zones will be aside, the debate over the lines has grown increasingly heated.
A group of 60 angry parents gathered in the lobby of 275 Greenwich St. Tuesday night to coordinate their opposition to Option 3, which Rose unveiled at a C.E.C. hearing last week. That option would zone southwest Tribeca for P.S. 89 in Battery Park City, even though many of the affected families live within a block of P.S. 234.
“It’s ludicrous,” said Jim Harrod, a 275 Greenwich resident who wants his young son to attend P.S. 234 and does not want to cross West St.’s six lanes of traffic to bring his son to P.S. 89. “It’s difficult to understand the logic,” Harrod continued. “Obviously, people who live across from a school should go to that school.”
Harrod and other Greenwich Court parents were particularly upset that one of the complex’s buildings, 295 Greenwich, was included in P.S. 234’s zone, while 275 Greenwich was not.
The parents at Tuesday night’s meeting vowed to flood local political officials with e-mails and they plan to turn up en masse at the C.E.C.’s next meeting, wearing red and carrying placards.
“You’ve got to make a big stink,” said de Seve, a Greenwich Court resident.
Not everyone is unhappy with the city’s Option 3. Gateway Plaza parents had objected to the previous plans that zoned them for P.S. 89, but they are happy that Option 3 zones them for P.S. 276. Option 3 also moves the Financial District east of Broadway from P.S. 276 to the Spruce Street School, which has received a mixed reaction from parents.
In addition, Option 3 takes care of one of the problems with the previously proposed Option 1, which would have divided the Whole Foods building into two school zones, with the high-end condos at 101 Warren St. zoned for P.S. 234 while the rentals at 89 Murray St. were zoned for the Spruce Street School (P.S. 397). Under the city’s new proposal, the entire building would be zoned for P.S. 89 instead.
The city’s new option is similar in some ways to one that C.E.C. member Michael Markowitz presented at a public hearing two weeks ago, but they differ in terms of which parts of Tribeca will go to P.S. 234. Both the D.O.E. and Markowitz are calling their new plans “Option 3,” which has led to some confusion among parents. The C.E.C. is considering all options that have been announced so far.
The C.E.C. is planning to hold one more hearing on Lower Manhattan rezoning before making a decision. The hearing will be in P.S. 234’s auditorium on Thurs., Jan. 7 at 6:30 p.m. The C.E.C. will also hold a working meeting on zoning, at which public comment will not be accepted, on Wed., Jan. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at 333 Seventh Ave., seventh floor.