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District 2 Council Rejects Two Rezoning Plans

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 11:11 PM

In a surprise turn on Wednesday evening, a parent council representing much of Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side unanimously rejected two city proposals to rezone public schools.

The proposals were an ambitious effort by the city's Department of Education to simultaneously rezone schools in the Chelsea and Greenwich Village neighborhoods, as well as several schools in TriBeCa and Lower Manhattan.

A third proposal, which the community education council did not address at its Wednesday meeting, would draw new zoning lines around three existing public schools on the Upper East Side in anticipation of a new school opening there next fall.

After early meetings at which they presented parents with the three proposals, city education officials revised them, but the council voted that two of the three remained unacceptable.

The council's vote was unexpected this early in the year — members had previously indicated they would make a decision in December — and caught some parents unaware.

"The real point of this tactic and the reason we felt it was the right thing to do on the spur of the moment, just in the last day or so, was to hit the chess clock and put the D.O.E. back on the clock," said Michael Markowitz, a member of District 2′s community education council.

"We’re giving the D.O.E. plenty of calendar time to come up with a better final offer," he said.

Mr. Markowitz said that council members found both plans deeply flawed. In Lower Manhattan, many parents opposed the city's proposal to send some families currently zoned for Public School 234 Independence School and the Spruce Street School to P.S. 1 Alfred E. Smith in Chinatown.

And Amy Hom, the principal of P.S. 1, told The Tribeca Trib earlier this week that she disagreed with city education officials' assessment of how much available space her school has for more students.

The council is hoping the department will submit a new zoning proposal for Lower Manhattan, where a new elementary school will open next year.

In Chelsea and Greenwich Village, the Department of Education proposed new zoning lines that several council members said would do little to prevent kindergarten waiting lists. A new school is scheduled to open in the Foundling Hospital building on West 17th Street in 2014, and Mr. Markowitz said that rezoning schools years before the new school opens would create instability.

Rezoning plans for those neighborhoods also included ending an unusual arrangement in which P.S. 41 Greenwich Village and P.S. 3 Charrette School, two schools that greatly differ in philosophy, share a zone, giving parents who live within the boundaries a choice between the two.

While P.S. 41's principal and many parents supported the creation of two distinct zones, P.S. 3's principal and parents worried that their school's culture would change if zoned families had no option but to enroll their children there.

Sandra Blackwood and Jennifer Lemberg, co-presidents of P.S. 41's Parent Teacher Association, said they collected 130 signatures from parents eager to see the school given its own zone. Like many overcrowded schools, P.S. 41 suffers from an abundance of zoned families and too few seats for their children. But because it shares a zone with P.S. 3, it is never clear how many students they should expect from one year to the next.

"I feel like they’ve gone a little rogue in a way," Ms. Lemberg said of the council's decision to vote down the Greenwich Village and Chelsea proposal. "The council has an agenda they want to present, and if the community doesn’t quite agree with it, they think they know better. I want them to trust the people who are the most at stake."

The council passed a third resolution on Wednesday, calling for the department to accelerate the opening of a new school in East Midtown, where P.S. 116 Mary Lindley Murray is overcrowded.

P.S. 281, which is expected to open in 2013, could open next year with only a kindergarten class in space the council has found.

On Nov. 28, the council is holding a meeting with Deputy Chancellors Kathleen Grimm and Marc Sternberg to discuss rezoning issues. Mr. Markowitz said that by then, he hoped the department would have new plans.


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