Facing threat, city backs C.B. 1 on high school

By Elizabeth O’Brien

The Department of Education stated last Friday that students living south of Houston St. would be granted preference in admissions to Millennium High School, providing the response that Community Board 1 officials sought when they recently threatened to withhold funding from the project.

Community Board 1 said last week that it would withhold the $12 million it has raised for Millennium High School unless the Department of Education formally granted Downtown students priority in admissions. The warning came as workers rush to finish construction on the 75 Broad St. site of Millennium High School in time for the September opening promised by Gov. George Pataki.

On Friday, C.B. 1 leaders expressed relief that they would not have to withhold the money they had raised, a threat they made out of long frustration with the department’s inability to assure them that Downtown students would have first dibs on the school after the community raised most of the capital to construct it.

“I think that I’m satisfied,” said Madelyn Wils, chairperson of C.B.1, on Friday when told the contents of the letter that deputy schools chancellor Anthony Shorris wrote to her, dated July 25. She was returning from a trip and had not yet received the letter.

“It sounds as if we got what we wanted,” said Paul Hovitz, chairperson of the youth and education committee of C.B. 1, when told of the letter.

The youth and education committee had prepared a resolution stating that the board would ask its donors to hold their funds if the Department of Education did not make a policy of granting Downtown students admissions priority. The board was expected to pass the resolution at its monthly meeting on Tuesday and to contact donors soon thereafter.

Donors include the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the NFL Foundation, the New York Stock Exchange, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and City Councilmember Alan Gerson. The three elected officials had made admissions preference for Downtown students a condition of their contributions, totaling $3 million.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation also pledged $3 million to Millennium. In his July 25 letter to Wils, Anthony Shorris wrote, “Since LMDC is providing $3 million towards this project it is appropriate to condition its use on their core mission, rebuilding and revitalizing lower Manhattan. To that end, a preference to the school will be given to any child living South of Houston Street.”

The L.M.D.C. was set up to help Lower Manhattan recover from the 2001 terror attack and is only permitted to fund projects south of Houston St.

This letter states the chancellor’s position more explicitly than previous communications between the Department of Education and C.B. 1. Board officials had threatened as early as last fall to stop fundraising unless they got a definitive response from Schools Chancellor Joel Klein on the issue of geographic preference for local students.

There are currently only a handful of public high schools south of Houston St., and these schools serve students from all over the city. The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 heightened the community’s desire to have a neighborhood high school option for their teenagers.

Also on Friday, the Department of Education announced that Anthony Shorris would step down at the end of this month to become a visiting professor at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. His successor is LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, who had served as the department’s chief of staff since March.

Margie Feinberg, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, noted that Shorris’ departure would have no bearing on the department’s position on Millennium.