School space needs
The good news last week was that the city announced it was going to try hard to find space for a new elementary school on the West Side somewhere between Hudson Square and Battery Park in the next few years.
As any 12-stepper knows, first you must admit there is a problem. That typically comes after years of denial, and the Department of Education has been true to form. Before we move away from this analogy, it is important to recognize that there indeed is a greater power that will help the city: the collective wisdom of the Downtown community, which which continues to identify problems and solutions in Downtown education, and to search for school space.
The city drastically reduced the size of the P.S. 89 and 234 zones this year, but despite D.O.E. assurances to the contrary, the zones were not small enough to accommodate the demand. A new elementary school is needed A.S.A.P.
We also worry about where all these kindergartners will be going to middle school in six years. Will Harvard soon be easier to get into than Lab School? And what about the new K-8’s? Will the next super-desired neighborhoods be southern Battery Park City and the South St. Seaport with their guaranteed middle school seats at P.S./I.S. 276 and Spruce St. School? Finding more school space and rethinking middle school admission policies and zones are difficult and complicated topics that need to be discussed now.
We did not have the sense the D.O.E. was taking parents’ school site suggestions seriously until last week’s meeting of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s Lower Manhattan task force on school overcrowding. Parents suggested the old Burlington Coat Factory spot at least a year and a half ago and were ignored. We’re told the Park Place building sold last summer for less than $5 million, while the city is spending $250 million for a 30-year lease in the Financial District to house a high school and a middle school.
We’ll take school space where we can get it, although finances can’t be ignored. The state-owned building at 75 Morton St. remains an ideal potential school site and we were pleased to hear that Silver will continue to work to get a school there.
The D.O.E. should take the suggestion from Community Board 1, parents and others to take into account family preferences when placing waitlisted students this year. We and others called on the city to be more flexible before the application process began and had the advice been taken, we would already have a sense of these families’ second choices. The city mantra that policy must be rigid regardless of special neighborhood considerations does not make sense. Several factors, when combined, make Lower Manhattan unique and cry out for a little flexibility: there are two new schools opening at the same time; Downtown includes several distinct neighborhoods in a small area; two of the schools in question are only a block apart.
We were pleased to hear that D.O.E. just took our suggestion to help relieve this year’s problem by expanding the enrollment at P.S. 276 and opening it up to Gateway Plaza. It may not work as a permanent solution, but it is definitely needed this year.
Good ideas are coming from many places, and if the city stays in its new listening mode, the best solutions will be easier to find. One day at a time.