Volume 22, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | January 15 - 21, 2010
Neither Option 2, left, or 3R passed Wednesday nights Community Education Council. Under 2, east Tribecans would be left out of coveted P.S. 234. Southwest Tribecans would be zoned out of P.S. 234 under the other proposal.
Late night school meeting ends in no decision
By Julie Shapiro
Tribecans will have another two weeks to fight over whose children will attend P.S. 234, after the District 2 Community Education Council failed to endorse a school zoning plan Wednesday night.
The C.E.C. has been considering two options for a temporary zoning of Lower Manhattans schools, but neither one received the six votes necessary to enact it. The council scheduled another vote for its next meeting Jan. 27, when they hope to break the logjam and settle on a final decision.
Kindergarten enrollment begins Feb. 1, and if the council has not picked an option by then, then the city will scrap the idea of zoning for next fall and will instead run a lottery similar to the one they did last year, according to Michael Markowitz, a C.E.C. member. He said a D.O.E. official told him about the possibility of a lottery, which is something he and the other members want to avoid at all costs.
The C.E.C. vote followed months of contentious meetings on the rezoning of P.S. 234, P.S. 89, and new schools P.S./I.S. 276 and the Spruce Street School, (P.S. 397). Each new proposal that the city floated attracted the ire of those who were left out of their first choice.
The vote Wednesday night was very close, with five C.E.C. members voting for Option 2 and four members voting for Option 3 Revised.
It divided the council as much as it divided the community, Markowitz said.
One member of the C.E.C., Diana Florence, was absent, which is part of what prevented the C.E.C. from reaching a decision. But Florence also could have cast a tie vote, because the C.E.C. currently has only 10 members rather than the standard 11. Markowitz hopes the C.E.C. can fill the vacancy before the Jan. 27 vote, to avoid the possibility of a tie.
The revelation that the C.E.C. would not pick a zoning option Wednesday night came near the end of a four-hour meeting that went past 10 p.m. The crowd of Lower Manhattan parents who trekked up to the Wagner Middle School on the Upper East Side groaned as they realized that the school zoning would remain undecided, said Tricia Joyce, a parent activist and P.S. 234 parent.
It was just shocking, Joyce said. The inability to pick a plan appeared to catch the C.E.C. members off guard as well, she said. They took a second vote just in case, but no one switched their position.
In both votes, C.E.C. President T. Elzora Cleveland, zoning committee co-chairpersons Shino Tanikawa and Sarah Chu, Mary Silver and P.S. 234 parent Eric Greenleaf voted for Option 2. Markowitz, Lisa Urban, Cynthia Alvarez and Beth Cirone voted for Option 3 Revised.
Option 2 would zone all of Tribeca west of Church St. for P.S. 234, while Tribeca east of Church St. would go to the new Spruce Street School near the Seaport. Option 3 Revised zones all of Tribeca north of Warren and Murray Sts. for P.S. 234, but it sends south Tribeca (including the Whole Foods building across the street from P.S. 234) to P.S. 89 in Battery Park City. A previous version of Option 3 split the two buildings of Greenwich Court condominium into two zones, but the revised version, which the city released last week, zones both buildings for P.S. 234.
Greenleaf picked Option 2 after hearing from many southwest Tribeca parents who opposed Option 3R because it would have forced them to cross the West Side Highway every day to get to P.S. 89. Although P.S. 89 and P.S. 234 are only one block apart, parents said the added inconvenience and danger of crossing the highway would make a big difference.
Whatever we do has to be safe by September, and the West Side Highway is a big highway, Greenleaf said after the vote. Safety has to be the No. 1 concern.
But Markowitz, who supported Option 3R, said he was not swayed by that argument, because Option 2 would require families in northeast Tribeca to cross Park Row, another dangerous street, to get to the Spruce Street School. Since neither of the options was perfectly safe, he said he voted for 3R because it had broader support in the community and the school leadership teams of Lower Manhattans two new schools preferred it.
The new school zones will be in place for at least one year. The C.E.C. will start working on a permanent zoning plan in the spring, said Shino Tanikawa, co-chairperson of the C.E.C.s zoning committee. However, some C.E.C. members want to wait to see how these zones work out before making changes, so the new zones may stay in place longer.
Prior to the C.E.C.s attempted vote, Community Board 1, which had no formal role in the decision, received 174 e-mails on the school rezoning, the largest e-mail response the board has ever seen on any issue, according to Chairperson Julie Menin. Of those e-mails, 110 supported Option 2, 62 supported Option 3 and two supported something else.
The pro-Option 2 e-mails were unsurprisingly concentrated in southwest Tribeca, and 44 came from the condos and rentals in the Whole Foods building. Supporters of Option 3 were scattered throughout the district, including north Tribeca, east Tribeca, the Financial District, the Seaport and southern Battery Park City.
The community board voiced its opinion on the zoning in the middle of December, before Option 3 was unveiled. The board voted for Option 2, mostly because it appeared better than Option 1, which divided some buildings in half. Now that the C.E.C. has delayed its final decision, the community board may revisit the zoning question at a meeting next week.
The most heated arguments over the school zoning lines were between Tribeca families arguing over which part of the neighborhood would attend P.S. 234. At a public hearing on the zoning at P.S. 234 last Thurs., Jan. 7, more than 200 people turned out to express their views, and they appeared evenly split between Option 2 and Option 3R.
Many Tribeca parents mentioned their safety concerns about crossing West St. (under Option 3R) or crossing Broadway and Park Row (under Option 2). Most also mentioned the importance of community and said they felt connected to P.S. 234, but far more families want to attend 234 than the school can hold.
Tribeca is not a one-school town anymore, said Joyce, the P.S. 234 parent and activist.
Joyce urged the angry crowd last week to calm down and focus on the fact that every child will have a school seat, at least for next fall.
None of these commutes are great, she said of the streets families will have to cross to get to school. But do you know whats less great? Waitlists.
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