D.O.E. rethinks zoning changes for Downtown

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  After considerable pushback by Lower Manhattan parents, the city Department of Education is contemplating redrawing the zoning lines it proposed back in September.

More than 150 parents showed up at the Oct. 26 District 2 Community Education Council meeting, where Elizabeth Rose, the D.O.E.’s director of portfolio planning, declared that the department is reconsidering the current rezoning plan.

Many parents from both Tribeca and the Financial District object to the current rezoning plan, which would essentially divide both their neighborhoods into two. Under the current plan, Tribeca youngsters that live above North Moore Street would be sent to P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village; those that live below P.S. 234 would, theoretically, be offered a seat at P.S. 234. Meanwhile, Financial District kindergarteners that live in the eastern catchment area bounded by Fulton, Gold, Broadway and Liberty Streets would be assigned to the new elementary school to be built at One Peck Slip; while the rest of the kindergarteners would be zoned for Spruce Street.

The Downtown children already enrolled in a school will be grandfathered into the new zoning, according to the D.O.E.  Similarly, incoming children whose siblings attend a school under the current zoning rules, would attend the same school as their older brother or sister.

“We will continue to take community feedback and concerns into account while developing our rezoning plan in District 2,” said D.O.E. Spokesperson Frank Thomas of Rose’s comments at last week’s meeting.

Many families in North Tribeca have expressed concern about sending their children to P.S. 3. “We very strongly believe that the neighborhood shouldn’t be split in half, and that North Tribeca should stay with the rest of Tribeca,” said Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin. Using the same logic, Menin said, residents who live literally blocks away from the Spruce Street School should be offered a seat there.

Financial District parent Margaret Barrett, who lives at 77 Fulton St., is angry precisely because she might not be able to send her pre-k-aged child to the Spruce Street School, across the street from her apartment.

“I heard the noise going up. I could look out my window and see it. I don’t think it’s fair,” said Barrett.

Southbridge Towers resident Daniela Gallo McGrath, isn’t thrilled with the prospect of sending her four-year-old son, Jack, to Peck Slip school’s kindergarten class starting next year — since Jack would be forced to attend school in Tweed Courthouse, the incubator site, for the first three years.

“We wouldn’t be thrilled to have a school not called his own,” said McGrath. “But generally speaking for the community, I think Peck Slip is fine.”

McGrath and others fear, however, that revising the proposed zoning plan could pose a different host of problems — such as sending Financial District students to faraway schools on the Lower East Side such as P.S. 1 and P.S. 126.

Altering the zoning lines for Tribeca, specifically, could potentially have a bad ripple effect for families that reside east of Broadway, according to McGrath. “There is concern from our community that we may end up being rezoned and no longer zoned for Peck Slip or Spruce, and we could be sent into a school in Chinatown,” she said.

Whereas now there is no bleed-over between Tribeca, on the west side, and the Financial District, on the east side, “an alternative map might show them all in the same cannibal soup together,” echoed District 2 C.E.C. Zoning Committee Co-chair Michael Markowitz.

Adding classroom seats to either P.S. 234 or P.S./I.S. 397 is “simply impossible,” he said. Rejecting the D.O.E.’s current zoning proposal, therefore, “would expose both areas — as well as the rest of the P.S. 234 and P.S./I.S. 397 zones — to a higher probability of being exposed to a lottery situation for next fall,” reasoned Markowitz.

“I don’t know what the D.O.E. will put forth in consideration on the next part. It’s a rationing situation,” said Markowitz. “You have to decide what the fairest way is to share a limited resource.”

Rezoning, Markowitz assured, is no substitute for new school seats. The number of new students, other than those grandfathered in as younger siblings, is anticipated to rise in the coming years.

“Last year’s headcount, [which helped to determine the current rezoning], is no substitute for true forecasting based on birth rates, new construction, and changes in demographic behavior,” said Markowitz.

P.S. 3 Principal Lisa Siegman, who accepted a high count of 175 kindergarteners this year, declined to conjecture about the impacts the proposed rezoning would have on her elementary school; however, she acknowledged, “We certainly wouldn’t be able to sustain [this] many students coming in every year.”

The District 2 C.E.C. is in the process of scheduling a meeting with the D.O.E.’s Deputy Chancellors later this month.

The Council’s next monthly meeting is scheduled for Wed., Nov. 16 at 6:30 p.m., according to its website. The location is yet to be determined.