Parents like 4 school zones, and city seems to agree


By Julie Shapiro

Certainty is more important than choice to many Downtown parents, the Dept. of Education discovered this summer.

The D.O.E. spoke to parents after a confusing kindergarten admissions season in which the rules kept changing and many parents could not get into the school closest to their home. Based on that experience, most parents want the city to create separate zones for each of Lower Manhattan’s schools, with children guaranteed a seat in their zoned school, said John White, head of the D.O.E.’s Office of Portfolio Development.

“Parents are saying they want a neighborhood school rather than a choice school,” White said at a Community Board 1 Youth and Education Committee meeting Tuesday night.

The alternative to creating separate zones for each school would be to create one large zone for all of them, with parents able to choose whichever one they wanted. If more students wanted to attend a given school than the school could fit, those who lived closest would have priority.

The Dept. of Education is submitting both zoning alternatives to the District 2 Community Education Council, an elected group of mostly parents, which will hammer out the details of a final plan by the end of the year, after a series of public meetings. White expects the C.E.C. to create separate zones for each school rather than one larger zone, based on the parent input he has received.

The reason Lower Manhattan needs to be rezoned is that two new elementary schools are opening to relieve overcrowding at the existing schools, P.S. 234 in Tribeca and P.S. 89 in Battery Park City. The two new schools, the Spruce Street School and P.S./I.S. 276, started their kindergarten classes last week in Tweed Courthouse and will move into their final buildings once they are complete.

If the C.E.C. follows the growing parent consensus to create four separate elementary zones, White said the zones would break out roughly as follows: P.S. 234 would serve Tribeca, P.S. 89 would serve northern B.P.C., P.S. 276 would serve southern B.P.C. and the Financial District south of Wall St., and the Spruce Street School would serve the Seaport and the Financial District north of Wall St.

White acknowledged that P.S. 234 may not fit everyone in Tribeca, even if Tribeca is defined by Canal St., Broadway, Chambers St. and the Hudson River.

Drawing the line at Chambers St. would also mean that families who live across the street from P.S. 234 in the Whole Foods building would not be able to attend the school.

White presented enrollment statistics to C.B. 1 Tuesday night, showing how the newly opened kindergarten classes are taking the burden off of P.S. 234 and P.S. 89. Eventually, once 234 and 89’s overcrowded classes graduate, the schools will return to their ideal capacities, with caps of 20 students in the younger grades and room for pre-K classes and cluster rooms for subjects like science and art, White said.

White’s prediction relies on Downtown’s kindergarten population remaining roughly where it is today. But parent activists say Downtown’s baby boom is still underway, and another 1,000 elementary seats could be needed even after the two new schools open. Eric Greenleaf, a P.S. 234 parent, has pointed to Downtown’s growing birth rate and new residential construction as warning signs of an overcrowding problem to come.

However, White said Tuesday that Greenleaf’s predictions for this fall did not come true, and Downtown actually saw slightly fewer kindergarteners this year than last year, even though more children were born in 2004 than in 2003 and Greenleaf predicted that the kindergarten population would increase this year.

Greenleaf said many families left New York because of the recession, and that is probably why the numbers dropped a bit this fall.

But looking further ahead, Downtown’s births have continued to balloon, with 824 children born in 2007 compared to 616 born in 2004, Greenleaf said. Unless 60 percent of those 2007 children move away or attend private school, and future years of children do the same, Downtown will have another crowding problem on its hands by 2014, Greenleaf said.

Denise Cordivano, director of the Battery Park City Day Nursery, said she is also seeing dramatic growth. This year she has 38 pre-K students, up from only 24 last year. And more of her students are attending public school than ever before — last year, 100 percent of the nursery school’s graduates went to public school, the first time in her 13 years there that that happened.

Tricia Joyce, a P.S. 234 parent, exhorted White and the city to plan ahead so Downtown doesn’t have to scramble for temporary overcrowding solutions, as they have in recent years.

“Our goal is just to not be here again,” Joyce said. “We need to know that this is going to be addressed in advance.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, White also gave details on plans for middle school seats at the two new schools. The sixth grade at P.S./I.S. 276 will open next fall, and students living in southern B.P.C. and the southern Financial District will likely receive admissions preference. The Spruce Street School’s sixth grade will not start until 2011, because it is uncertain whether the school’s building will be ready in time for next September, White said.

White said the city recognizes that more elementary seats are needed somewhere in District 2, which stretches from Lower Manhattan to the Upper East Side, but the city needs to examine more data before deciding on locations.

District 2’s Community Education Council will hold a working meeting on school zoning Thurs., Sept. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at 333 Seventh Ave. between 28th and 29th Sts. on the seventh floor.