Volume 20, Number 40 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | February 16 - 23, 2011
Negotiations for Peck Slip school in final, urgent stages
BY Aline Reynolds
Downtown parents are eagerly awaiting news concerning a proposal to open a 400-seat elementary school at the Peck Slip post office building in the Financial District. Whether its good news or bad news is yet to be determined.
Elizabeth Rose, director of portfolio planning for the city’s Department of Education, said the School Construction Authority has not yet finalized its exclusive negotiations with the U.S. Postal Service for acquisition of the site.
“There’s absolutely a sense of urgency,” Rose told members of the School Overcrowding Task Force at Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s office last Thursday. She said the S.C.A. is in daily correspondence with the U.S.P.S., though she wouldn’t say when the two parties would seal the deal.
In the meantime, the S.C.A. has been given access to the building to conduct environmental tests and other standard inspections, which Rose says will expedite the process when an agreement is reached.
A new school to the north, in Hudson Square, is also on the horizon. Trinity Real Estate, which hopes to erect a residential tower at Duarte Square, plans to carve out four stories of raw space for a K-5 public school and permanently hand it over to the D.O.E.
“Trinity is to be commended about being proactive in planning for a new school for residential development,” said Rose.
P.S.#234 parent Tricia Joyce and other task force members are nonetheless concerned that such new residential developments in Downtown could outpace new school construction.
She and the other task force members were disappointed to hear that Spruce Street School (P.S. 397) will not open sixth grade next fall in Beekman Street tower, as they had hoped.
When questioned about it, Rose replied sternly, “We’ve gone over this before. It just doesn’t make sense. We have middle school seats in the area, and it’s difficult financially.”
But some task force members didn’t buy into this reasoning.
“The entire [D.O.E.] policy is geared towards creating new schools,” said Leonie Hamson, executive director of Class Size Matters. “They have plenty of money to burn when it’s what they want to do; but when the community wants to, they are suddenly broke. They are completely hypocritical.”
Community Board 1 member Paul Hovitz said people in his residential complex at Southbridge Towers were counting on sending their sixth graders to the school.
“Now they assume it’s a dead issue,” said Hovitz, “so they’re looking elsewhere in the city, when they would have much preferred to have their kids close to home.”
“I am concerned that by delaying its opening and using that space for additional [Spruce Street] elementary school classes, we run the risk of losing needed middle school seats,” said Speaker Silver after the meeting. “I will continue to hold the D.O.E. accountable to its commitment, and I will continue to press for more desperately needed school space in Lower Manhattan.”
Task force member Eric Greenleaf believes middle school students zoned for Spruce Street should get priority at P.S. 276; currently they don’t receive preference at any of the Lower Manhattan schools.
“We didn’t design the school — they did,” said Greenleaf. “If the D.O.E. didn’t design a school up to their financial criteria… they need to own up to it” and accommodate the children that live in the Spruce Street zone.
Downtown schools have already received 393 applications during pre-registration period, which began January 10, but only have room for 350 of them, according to Greenleaf. If Spruce Street accepts an excess number of kindergarteners in the coming years, 244 Downtown kindergarteners will be denied a seat there in Fall 2013, and 265 more in Fall 2014. He will be presenting this and other data to the D.O.E. in the coming weeks.
P.S. 276, which will have space for between 75 and 100 kindergarteners next fall, has received 78 applications thus far, 12 of whom are now in the pre-school. The school is considering opening up a fifth section of kindergarten in September to accommodate more students.
“They really can’t continue doing this,” said Greenleaf. “They’ll run out of space in a few years.”
P.S. 89 has accumulated 64 kindergarten applications thus far — 11 of which have older siblings in the school — for between 65 and 75 available seats. “It’s not that far off from last year’s numbers,” said the school’s principal, Ronnie Najjar.
The school typically accepts more students than it receives, predicting some attrition to occur over the summer (though it eventually had to create a wait list for the 2010-11 school year due to the high number of applications).
Spruce Street, meanwhile, has received 60 applications so far — only 5 of which involve siblings – which is in line or below capacity for the school, according to Rose.
P.S. 234, meanwhile, has 166 applicants, 68 of which are siblings; compared to 186 applicants this time last spring, according to Rose.
Pre-registration ends March 4. All children on wait lists, Rose assured, will receive alternate offers at other public schools.
Rose said the D.O.E. hasn’t made a decision yet about which school will occupy the vacant classrooms in Tweed Courthouse starting next year. D.O.E. spokesperson Jack Zarin-Rosenfeld said the department would be making the call in the next few months.
“That’s a good sign,” said Councilmember Margaret Chin after the meeting. “We need to keep the pressure on the D.O.E. to save those classrooms.”
Parents, however, are still frustrated that Innovate Manhattan Charter School is one of the main candidates for the space.
“What’s the point of taking our Tweed rooms and putting a charter middle school there, if, according to [the D.O.E.], we don’t need middle school seats?” said Joyce.
And while the Richard R. Green school is set to move into the first two floors of 26 Broadway, the task force is determined to find another Downtown site for a second Millennium high school.
“There was capital money set aside for it,” said Speaker Silver. “It’s important for this community.”
“I’m very upset Millennium didn’t get into 26 Broadway,” said task force member Liat Silverman, former president of P.S. 234’s Parent-Teacher Association. “I feel that’s a lost opportunity, and we’ll all rue the day.”