Volume 17, Number 40 | February 25 - March 3, 2005

School zoning debate to begin

By Ronda Kaysen

Ground has yet to break on a new east side K-8 school, but west side parents are already vying for a zoned middle school in their neighborhood, suggesting transforming two Downtown elementary schools into K-8 schools to resolve the problem.

Earlier this month the co-presidents of P.S 89 on Warren St. in Battery Park City, Angela Benfield and LaVette Bell, sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pleading their case for a zoned middle school for Downtown’s west side.

“I don’t care which way we get children to have a guaranteed spot in a middle school down here. I don’t care if it’s a new middle school or if it’s changing the zoning,” Benfield told Downtown Express. “The main thing is to make sure that 11 to 14 year olds who live down here have the option of going to school down here and right now they don’t have a guaranteed option.” Currently, the only zoned school for the neighborhood is at Simon Baruch School on E. 21st St.

Borough President C. Virginia Fields is considering Benfield’s suggestion to convert P.S. 234 on Greenwich St. in Tribeca and P.S./I.S. 89 into K-8 schools, agreeing that the neighborhood schools do have an overcrowding problem, according to a representative from Fields’ office. The borough president has yet to take a position on the issue, however.

“Until I receive answers to questions that I have about the ramifications of turning I.S. 89 into a zoned middle school, it is impossible for me to fully weigh the pros and cons of such a decision,” Fields said in an e-mail statement to Downtown Express. “Perhaps there is a better solution that we have not thought of.” Fields plans to broach the subject with the Dept. of Education, although her office does not yet have a meeting with the department.

At a Feb. 22 Youth/Education Committee meeting of Community Board 1, supporters of a zoned middle school, including Benfield, attempted to drum up support for a new school. Committee member Tom Goodkind, at B.P.C. resident and longtime supporter of a zoned middle school with a child at P.S. 89, suggested the committee draft a resolution in support of a new middle school.

“The argument is solid for our children to have middle school seats,” Goodkind said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t make sense not going for this, especially now that money seems to be available.”

Not all board members were so quick to act, however, and were skeptical of the suggestion to transform P.S./I.S. 89 and P.S. 234 into K-8 schools.

“We need to get a much clearer indication of how many kids whose zip code qualified them for I.S. 89 and actually applied and were turned away,” committee chair Paul Hovitz said at Tuesday’s meeting.

P.S. 234, Hovitz added, was already exceeding capacity. Even with a new annex, which will hopefully be completed by September 2007, the school may still have space issues. “Probably by the time the annex is built, [the students] will easily fill the seats. Where they’ll find room for 6-8 is a mystery to me,” he said.

Hovitz urged caution in advocating a zoned middle school in a building that may not have enough space for all the students. “The Dept. of Ed. would not knowingly create a catchment area when there were clearly not enough seats for the kids.”

Other board members suggested holding off on any decisions until after the board had a better sense of what the new catchment area would be for the new east side K-8 school, which is planned to have space for 600 students in the future 75-story Bruce Ratner tower on Beekman St.

“We have to get the new school up and running before we can make this proposition work because then we’ll know if we have enough places for all of these children,” committee member Marc Donnenfeld said at the meeting.

Despite the committee’s reservations, Hovitz agreed to consider a resolution at next month’s committee meeting, scheduled for March 29, although he indicated that he would not support a resolution “without further knowledge” of the number of children affected by the problem and the actual space available for them.

Goodkind is optimistic about the outcome of Tuesday night’s meeting. “Yesterday was the breakthrough with Paul [Hovitz,]” he said. “I really feel that next month we’ll have a resolution. He promised it.”


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