Volume 17, Number 45 | April 1 — 7, 2005

Leader puts school zoning on the table

Peter Heaney, Region 9 superintendent on a visit to P.S. 234 last year.
Downtown Express file photo by Elisabeth Robert

By Ronda Kaysen

I.S. 89 is not large enough to accommodate all of Downtown’s middle school-aged children if it were re-zoned for the neighborhood, according to a letter from Peter Heaney, superintendent for Region 9, although the neighborhood will likely need a zoned middle school in the coming years.

Heaney’s March 24 letter to P.S. 89 co-president Angela Benfield is the first formal response supporters of a zoned middle school have received from the region since they launched a letter-writing campaign in 2003. Until now, the Department of Education has remained silent on the contentious topic.

“They [Region 9] are obviously aware that a zoned middle school is needed for the area,” Benfield told Community Board 1 members at a Youth and Education Committee meeting this week.

Some Downtown parents, mainly those from Battery Park City’s P.S. 89, which shares the same Warren St. building with I.S. 89, have been vying to zone the middle school for their neighborhood, despite opposition from I.S. 89 principal, Ellen Foote, and some I.S. 89 parents.

Once P.S. 89 children graduate from fifth grade, they are not guaranteed a space in the middle school, which is part of the “choice” school system and requires students to apply. B.P.C.’s zoned school is Simon Baruch School on E. 21st St., which has no direct subway or bus route from the neighborhood.

Critics of the proposal have long maintained that I.S. 89 is not large enough to accommodate all of the middle school children in C.B. 1’s district, which extends from Canal St. south to the tip of the island and from the Hudson to the East River.

Heaney, it seems, agrees with the opposition. “With respect to I.S. 89, given its size, if this school was designated as a zoned school we would be concerned that parents from P.S. 234 and P.S. 150, living in the Downtown area, would be denied the opportunity to choose this school for their children,” wrote Heaney.

Heaney’s assessment of I.S. 89 is in line with the region’s assessment of P.S. 89 when the school opened in 1999. At the time, the school district chose to zone the elementary school for B.P.C., excluding the rest of the C.B. 1 neighborhood, because the school was not large enough to accommodate the entire district.

In his letter, Heaney did not say the region would examine the zoning issue in the immediate future, although in a subsequent e-mail statement to the Downtown Express, he indicated the time for the zoning discussion might be now.

“The region recognizes the need for middle school choices that are geographically closer to Lower Manhattan. In light of the current development of additional housing and schools, we feel it would be important to review the current zoning patterns and will be seeking input from parents, [Community Education Council District 2] members and Central Office staff,” he said in the e-mail statement.

Tom Goodkind, a C.B. 1 member and B.P.C. parent who has been a longtime advocate for zoning I.S. 89, insists Heaney’s letter was flawed.

Goodkind said there will be enouch space once the new K-8 school planned for the east side is built. “There is not only enough room for all the kids, but a lot more room once both schools are zoned,” he said. “This is fairly easy to understand and can be accomplished rather quickly and it would be a tremendous win for our community.”

The superintendent noted in his letter that I.S. 89 is already at capacity with 297 children. “This space limitation inhibits the school from serving as a zoned school for P.S. 89,” he wrote.

Although the school is not zoned for P.S. 89 students, they do stand a good chance of getting in anyway. Seventy six percent of P.S. 89 students who choose I.S. 89 as their first choice school are accepted, Heaney wrote. “More importantly, nearly 80 percent of the students from P.S. 89 applying to the District Two Middle School Choice process were admitted to their first choice school,” Heaney added.

Numbers mean different things for different people and for those who would like to see preference given to P.S. 89 children, a 76 percent acceptance rate means 24 percent of their children were denied a seat. “I was under the understanding that if you put I.S. 89 as your first choice you were given preference and you are not,” Benfield said at the meeting. “This is unacceptable.”

At the March 29 meeting, several committee members suggested focusing attention on the 26 percent of children who were denied a seat at I.S. 89 before making policy changes. “First we need to organize those parents for whom the system is not meeting their needs, then try to make policy changes,” committee member Bob Townley said at the meeting. “I don’t see you kicking in any doors and getting Peter Heaney to roll over on this.”

It is not clear from Heaney’s letter exactly how many children account for the 26 percent that were denied access, a number that several board members wondered about. “We need to do a little more research to determine the magnitude of the problem,” Paul Goldstein, district manager for C.B. 1, said in a telephone interview. “Many of the kids are getting into the school of their choice, which is a good thing, but we have parents who want to send their kids close by, that’s the issue we have to hone in on. Can we do a better job of trying to meet their needs?”

A public town hall meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 6 at 6 p.m. at 250 Broadway to discuss middle school zoning, the new eastside school on Beekman St., elementary school overcrowding and a new annex at P.S. 234.

“Region 9 will be represented at the meeting,” Alicia Maxey, a spokesperson for the Dept. of Ed. told Downtown Express.

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com

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