Rezoning the Village will change schools landscape

By Ann Kjellberg

A few weeks ago at a meeting at P.S. 40 on Second Ave. and 18th St., Elizabeth Rose, a Department of Education representative, revealed a rezoning proposal that would completely change Village kids’ eligibility for public school. The local Community Education Council has a vote on the proposal and is holding hearings over the next few weeks to gauge public response. They are scrambling for ways to reach out to the proposal’s main beneficiaries: the parents of young children and future young children of District 2.

The C.E.C. hearing devoted to the Village section of the rezoning will be held Tues., Oct. 11, at 6:30 p.m. at P.S. 11, at 320 W. 21st St.

The most dramatic change in the proposed rezoning is that Village families would no longer have a choice between P.S. 3 and P.S. 41. Starting this September, a zoning line that begins at Jackson Square (at 13th St. and Eighth Ave.) and follows Greenwich Ave. to Seventh Ave., then to Bedford St., then down Houston St. to Greene St., would divide the P.S. 3 zone from the P.S. 41 zone.

Also, in an effort to reduce overcrowding, zoning lines are shifting southward. The P.S. 234 zone would end at North Moore St., sending northern Tribeca families to P.S. 3. The P.S. 11 zone to our north would begin at Bethune St. on the west side, and would move up Eighth Ave. and follow 14th St. to Fifth Ave. Students from part of the far West Village, and also the south of Chelsea, would go to P.S. 11 on 21st St.

These two elements of the proposal have different purposes and should be considered separately.

Separating P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 would not substantially affect overcrowding. The split’s proponents argue that the current choice/lottery system is extremely confusing and burdensome to the schools, which must handle double the number of registering parents a normal zone would and deal with all the frustrations of those who don’t get their first choice.

The split’s opponents argue that having the option of an alternative school is a desirable opportunity. Supporters of P.S. 3 fear it would lose its particular character and be obliged to hew to more standard practices if it became a separately zoned school.

The choice between two schools with differing pedagogical traditions is unique to our neighborhood: No other zone in the city offers it. The current P.S. 3 was developed by parents, teachers and community members in the wake of the 1968 teachers’ strike as an experiment in community schooling and it has always been a Village alternative school. Considering this change involves considering what sort of schooling we want in the Village and how we envision ourselves as a neighborhood.

There is a more subtle argument about the nature of the neighborhood school, and whether neighborhoods should be divided up when sending kids to school.

At the heart of the discussion is the scarcity of resources. Although D.O.E. argues that rezoning can relieve overcrowding, most observers counter that this is only “redistributing the wait list.” We still don’t have enough room for all our kids, which is degrading their learning environment. Under the current proposal, there would simply be a slightly more equal distribution of the excess.

The rezoning also does not take account of future changes. D.O.E. doesn’t provide the C.E.C.’s with the demographic data that they use to project future need for seats. D.O.E. argues that zoning decisions should be based on current enrollment and not projections. But everyone can see the buildings rising in parts of our city. Chelsea and Hudson Square are obviously expanding quickly, but the proposal doesn’t reflect this. The rezoning also doesn’t consider birth rates.

D.O.E. continues to promise that we have adequate space, while our schools grow more crowded and the number of waitlists for kindergarten seats increases ever year.

In response to D.O.E. opacity about demographic data, the Community Board 2 Education and Social Services Committee has formed a subcommittee to compile data independently, but their research won’t be completed in time for this zoning cycle.

Hence, many parents say we cannot have a discussion about zoning without a discussion about new construction. The Foundling Hospital, at W. 17th St. and Sixth Ave., is owned by the city and supposedly destined to become a school in 2014, but the consequences of this are not seen in the current proposal. Some fear that extra-large zones for P.S. 41 and P.S. 11 were created possibly to carve up for Foundling, but that D.O.E. may reprogram Foundling for another use and leave P.S. 41 and 11 even more crowded.

Trinity Real Estate has promised to build a school in its proposed development in Hudson Square. This also does not show up on the rezoning proposal.

Parents continue to advocate for school space as part of the N.Y.U. development and in other undeveloped spaces, such as Pier 40 and the St. John’s Center, both in Hudson Square.

And of course the Live and Learn Coalition, which I discussed in my last column, advocates using the threatened Rudin development at the former St. Vincent’s Hospital to jump-start discussions about potential public school space at 75 Morton St.

Increasing public school seats is where the discussion needs to be, not in arguments over painful zoning redivisions that are, in the words of C.E.C. representative Michael Markowitz, merely moving deck chairs around on the Titanic.

It is crucial, then, that parents and other interested members of the public go to the Oct. 11 hearing and advocate for their vision of the Village’s education future. If you can’t go, you can send written testimony to d2zoning@gmail.com. But if you have something substantive to add to the discussion, it may be worth asking someone else to read it for you at the hearing, so that the interested community, as well as the C.E.C., can hear. For more information about the zoning proposal see www.cecd2.net/home.