75 Morton zone O.K.’d; Tweaks to come?

Peter Leonardi, a W. 12th St. resident, protested that the proposed new Morton middle school zone included an “unfair carve-out” of a chunk of Greenwich Village blocks between W. 12th and 14th Sts. By Sara Hendrickson
Peter Leonardi, a W. 12th St. resident, protested that the proposed new Morton middle school zone included an “unfair carve-out” of a chunk of Greenwich Village blocks between W. 12th and 14th Sts. By Sara Hendrickson

BY SARA HENDRICKSON | After a full vetting with communities across School District 2, a new zone for the 75 Morton St. middle school was unanimously approved at the May 3 meeting of Community Education Council District 2.

“I am so grateful for your zoning a large part of Manhattan that had no zoned school,” Sanjiv Rao told the meeting. A father of two, he lives in Hell’s Kitchen, which had no zoned middle school for years.

The new zone will include Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Soho, Tribeca and Battery Park City.

But C.E.C. 2 left the door open a crack to add a handful of blocks in Greenwich Village to the zone.

Advocates for a group of residents on W. 12th St. made a large impact at the May 3 meeting, speaking out against an “unfair carve-out” from the zone. Several local politicians and Community Board 2 were on their side.

A joint letter from Councilmembers Corey Johnson and Margaret Chin, Borough President Gale Brewer, state Senators Daniel Squadron and Brad Hoylman, and Assemblymember Deborah Glick was read aloud, asserting that “bisecting Greenwich Village at 12th St. prevents some students from being zoned to their future neighborhood middle school at 75 Morton. A more appropriate boundary would be 14th St.”

Peter Leonardi co-chairs the 12th St. Block Association and lives with his three children on the north side of W. 12th St., which was rezoned three years ago from P.S. 41, at W. 11th St. and Sixth Ave., to the new P.S. 340 elementary school, at W. 16th St. and Sixth Ave.

Since the city’s Department of Education follows elementary school zone lines in creating middle school zones, Leonardi’s side of the street would be zoned for Baruch middle school, M.S. 104, at E. 21st St. and Second Ave.

“We’ve talked about this since P.S. 41 was rezoned and divided our community in half,” he said. “We were told this zoning would not continue through to middle school, but it has.”

Jeannine Kiely, chairperson of the Community Board 2 Schools and Education Committee, pointed out, “The proposed zone already deviates from elementary zones.”

Specifically, she showed on the map two small areas in Soho and the East Side where the lines of the existing elementary zone and the proposed middle school zone don’t quite match up.

Sarah Turchin of the D.O.E. explained that deviations arose from shifts in elementary school lines subsequent to middle school zones being created.

“This is not a discussion of changing elementary school zones,” Kiely continued. “Including this carved-out area would open up 75 Morton to Greenwich Village residents who have lobbied for the school since 2007.”

“Restore those blocks,” urged Michael Markovitz, a former C.E.C. 2 member. “This is a chance to make it right, not rushed.”

But postponing the vote would have had consequences, since 75 Morton would not be classified as a zoned school in the middle school directory about to go to press. Even though specific zoning maps are not included in the directory — as Kiely and Markovitz noted in making their case — schools must be listed as zoned or unzoned as an integral part of the application process.

Shino Tanikawa, chairperson of C.E.C. 2, suggested an approach used during the complex rezoning of P.S. 3 and P.S. 41.

“We have a precedent for voting on a zoning proposal with a caveat that we re-evaluate a particular area at a later date,” she stated.

So the C.E.C. 2 proceeded to do just that.

A formal vote on the 75 Morton zone was taken, with a unanimous 9-to-0 result in favor. A request was then made to D.O.E. to prepare an amended zone map including the currently carved-out area, between W. 12th and 14th Sts. and Greenwich and Fourth Aves.

Zoning will continue to be on the agenda with more public hearings for community members to weigh in.

C.E.C. 2 member Beth Cirone cautioned, “Don’t expect this to be put to bed in June. This could be a never-ending battle over zoning lines.”

Even if the add-back to the zone is voted down, Matthew Horovitz, who chairs the C.E.C. 2 75 Morton Committee, offered the group an important reminder.

“This will be a 200-to-300-seat-per-grade middle school, and many seats outside the zoned seats will be open to the entire district,” he stressed. “It’s important to remember that.”

Tanikawa reiterated District 2 statistics that have been a refrain throughout the zoning meetings: A breakdown of 80 percent to 20 percent in choice seats versus zoned seats, since most students shop around for a school outside their zone. In zoned middle schools, only 50 percent of students, on average, come from inside the zone.

P.S. 41 Principal Kelly Shannon shared her perspective at the May 3 meeting, noting she had endured the “arduous process” of having her school undergo rezoning.

“I’m certainly partial to 12th, 13th and 14th Sts.,” she said. “But as we go into the middle school process in the fall, I wouldn’t want this to detract from bringing clarity to so many families that now, within the choice process [are fortunate to have] another zoned school.”

Shannon said she anticipates that families will naturally “need to be convinced” about a new school.

“As elementary school principals,” she said, “we will need to focus on rallying around the new leader of 75 Morton, whoever that might be.”