Parents call latest school rezoning a ‘failure’


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The city D.O.E.’s proposed rezoning for Lower Manhattan public schools.
BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Tribeca resident Thomas Ryan said he would consider packing his bags and moving his family out of New York if the city’s latest school rezoning plan is approved.

“We’re really concerned and very upset and very angry about it,” said Ryan, who with his wife invested their savings in a White Street apartment last year — in part to be able to send their three-year-old daughter, Alice, to P.S. 234, the neighborhood elementary school, a 10-minute walk south.

If the latest rezoning proposal goes through, however, Alice would instead be assigned a seat at the Alfred E. Smith School (P.S. 1) in Chinatown, entailing a more complex commute that would typically involve crossing Worth Street, the Bowery, and two bustling parks.

“We spent so much time thinking longterm about how our kids would be educated,” said Ryan. “Now we’re part of a community, and we’re being told, ‘we’re going to break it up.’”

As of last week, the city Department of Education, at the urging of Downtown parents, has devised yet another proposal to rezone schools in Lower Manhattan. Families like the Ryans, however, are left feeling dismayed and puzzled about where they’ll be sending their children to school next year and what the youths’ daily commutes will be like.

At C.E.C. D2’s Nov. 8 zoning committee meeting, Elizabeth Rose, the D.O.E.’s portfolio planning director, presented a new school zoning map for District Two elementary schools, following an initial proposal that also received wide criticism from parents. Rezoning of all the Downtown elementary schools is necessary for the 2012-13 school year in order to create a new zone for the Peck Slip school, which is slated to open in 2015, according to the D.O.E.

The revised plan will undergo a C.E.C. vote on Wed., Dec. 14. Meanwhile, more than 200 northeast Tribeca parents have joined forces behind a written petition, in which they voice their disappointment with the D.O.E.’s final proposal and advocate for C.E.C. Community Education Council District Two to vote against the plan.

“We are planning on sending the petition to the D.O.E. and C.E.C. D2 before the town hall [zoning] meeting on Nov. 28,” according to the parents’ group.

Diverging from the previous proposal, the D.O.E.’s latest plan avoids zoning elementary students south of Canal Street for P.S. 3 in Greenwich Village. Instead, the new plan, if implemented, would send youngsters who live east of West Broadway, from Canal Street to Chambers Street, across neighborhoods to P.S. 1 – since P.S. 234 is busting at the seams.

Children in the southern half of Tribeca, meanwhile, would be assigned to the Spruce Street School (P.S. 397).

The new proposal, Rose said, is “the best way” the Department could reapportion enrollment. She said the “big message” among parental feedback on the previous plan was the request to not be zoned for a West Village school, which would require crossing Canal Street. Rose added, “At the same time, we have to recognize that the P.S. 234 zone is still large; and so, how will we best address the excess demand at P.S. 234 and take advantage of all the capacity that we have available?”

P.S. 1 can accommodate at least one additional class section per grade, said Rose, adding, “There is nobody here crossing underneath the Brooklyn Bridge yet to [go to] school,” addressing parents’ previous anxiety about the potentially dangerous commute to P.S. 1.

Rose nonetheless assured parents that this route would be safe, in the event that some Downtown children would have to take it to school.

“I crossed underneath the Brooklyn Bridge, there are several walkways underneath the Brooklyn Bridge,” said Rose. “It is not unsafe, but we certainly understand it is not the most attractive crossing.”

The D.O.E. is also proposing to expand the Spruce Street School zone to encompass more of the central portion of the Financial District — specifically, to include children who live above Liberty Street and as far east as Nassau Street, rather than Broadway (the easternmost boundary set in the previous proposal).

Meanwhile, Financial District children that reside east of Nassau Street, above Liberty Street — and east of Broadway, below Liberty Street — would be assigned to the Peck Slip school, which will incubate at Tweed Courthouse until it moves into its permanent home, One Peck Slip, in four years.

Despite Rose’s explanation of the new proposal, many people remained unsatisfied.

“I’m disappointed — I thought we were pretty clear we didn’t want to slice [Tribeca] at all,” said Michael Markowitz, co-chair of C.E.C. District 2’s rezoning committee. “We want a fundamentally different proposal before us.”

Tribeca parents who are aware of the P.S. 234’s overcrowding problem would rather take a gamble with a lottery than be rezoned for a different school altogether. “That way, everybody would have a chance,” Markowitz said.

“I’d prefer to keep my neighborhood in tact… and take the chance on a waitlist,” affirmed Reade Street Parent Rinat Aruh, whose residence falls in the P.S. 1 zone in the proposed plan, even though it is just a few blocks away from P.S. 234.

Despite her apprehension about P.S. 1, Aruh said she would have no choice but to send her child to the Chinatown school, since the $25,000-to-$40,000 annual tuition for a private school is just not in the cards.

Apart from having to accompany her five-year-old son on a near-mile trek to and from school everyday, Aruh fears the zoning change would have an even broader divisive impact on the tight-knit community in Tribeca.

“West Broadway is considered the heart of Tribeca — even from a retail perspective,” said Aruh. “[Local businesses] will say, ‘this is no longer a part of the neighborhood.’”

Southbridge Towers residents are equally disheartened by the latest zoning proposal, which would send their children to the Peck Slip school rather than the Spruce Street School (P.S. 397), their desired choice.

Spruce was primarily built to accommodate east side students, according to Andi Sosin, whose grandchild will be entering kindergarten in 2013. Sosin and other S.B.T. families find Peck Slip to be an unappealing option, since Tweed Courthouse, the school’s incubator, lacks basic amenities such as a full-sized gym and an auditorium.

“I find it irrational,” said Sosin.

Responding to the D.O.E.’s proposal, Community Board 1’s Youth and Education Committee drafted a resolution asking that the P.S. 234 zone be unchanged and for S.B.T. children to be zoned for Spruce.

The rezoning plan is bound to fail and would “decimate” P.S. 1, according to C.B.  1 member Tricia Joyce, an outspoken member of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s overcrowding task force.

“It’s a different proposal [than the last one],” said Joyce, “but it’s really the same. We’re taking a small amount of blocks that represent a couple of handfuls of children, and we’re sending them a long distance to another neighborhood, when we have 1200 more children coming up in Lower Manhattan.”

P.S. 1 has welcomed in Tribeca youngsters that weren’t accepted into P.S. 234, Joyce continued, “But we’re talking 7 to 10 children — not 300.”

“Over that, we will be dismantling our C.T.T. [Collaborative Team Teaching] expansion, we will have to put art and science on carts, and we will have to give up all of those things that make the school special.”

At the Nov. 8 meeting, Hovitz also complained to Rose about not being given advanced notice to review the proposal before commenting on it. C.E.C. District 2’s president, Shino Tanikawa, accused the D.O.E. for failing to circulate the new zoning map prior to the meeting, as the C.E.C. had requested.

“I saw the proposals [for the first time] at 5:30 in the evening, before I came,” Tanikawa told Rose.

“I honestly think it is unfair to have everybody in this room, including parents and community members… to, on the fly, respond,” chimed in C.B. 1 Chair Julie Menin.

Jennifer Cho, whose four- and two-year-old children would be assigned to P.S. 1. under the proposed zoning, said she would be completely unprepared for the zoning changes.

“I feel like it’s something that came completely out of left field… It has completely thrown a wrench into everything,” said Cho.