School Rezoning Plan Strikes Personal Chord

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Editor's Note: There are meetings taking place around the city to review various re-zoning plans for crowded school districts. Below, a parent from the Gowanus/Park Slope area of Brooklyn explains her opposition to a Department of Education proposal to reduce the zones for P.S. 321 William Penn, P.S. 107 John W. Kimball, and P.S. 39 Henry Bristow, enlarge the zone for P.S. 10 and open a new school in a former Catholic school building. The next Community Education Council meeting on Nov. 7 is a business meeting at which future public hearing dates will be set. The CEC will vote on the rezoning proposal on Nov. 29. Add your comments below.

All politics are personal. And when it comes to the politics of school rezoning, it doesn't get any more personal than your own children.

Rezoning has reared its head in a handful of New York City neighborhoods this fall with a vengeance. I am a resident of Park Slope with a daughter enrolled in Pre-K at P.S. 39 as well as a 10-month-old baby hot on her heels. I am concerned about the current proposal from the Department of Education which is intended to reduce overcrowding in District 15, namely at two of our marquee schools -- PS 321 and PS 107 -- but causes overcrowding at others, and creates other problems as well.

At this point, we are in the middle of a 45-day public review process, after which the Community Education Council, an elected committee of nine volunteer parents across the district, will vote on the proposal. Majority wins.

As you might imagine, not everyone in the neighborhood is thrilled with the plan. There are those who are now zoned for acclaimed P.S. 321 but would be re-zoned for P.S. 39 or the new school. Many of them have been complaining loudly about what this may do to their property values, with real estate agents fanning the flames.

But for my community at P.S. 39 the complaints are not about re-sale value. We have something wonderful in our school community that the rezoning proposal would destroy. We have a culturally rich and diverse community that will be broken apart to accommodate minimal gains at neighborhood schools.

Within our current pre-K community alone, a full 25 percent of us would be kicked off the roster next year. We are families from Colombian, Ukrainian, Japanese, Dutch, African-American, Hispanic, and Caucasian descent. We bring value, and engagement to the larger school community and classrooms. P.S. 39 also has managed to get the math right when it comes to enrollment and funding; up until now, we’ve had just enough kids to get the funding we’ve needed to function, and not so many that we can’t accommodate our in-zone residents. This delicate formula isn’t simple, and it’s very much at risk with the proposal.

According to the proposed re-zoning, my children would be sent to the new, unnamed school while P.S. 39 would admit students from a section of Park Slope -- the two blocks closest to Prospect Park -- that is so far from the school the city would need to bus them in.

Clearly I have an agenda: our daughter loves her class and her friends and teachers, and we don’t want to uproot her from all that. We had envisioned a long future at the school. But really our whole community -- even those who are personally unaffected by the proposed zone change -- is up in arms. How many schools across New York City actually work? Why mess with something good?

Another problem that critics have pointed out is the potential segregation caused by the re-zoning plan. Currently, it would lob off some of the most diverse streets and reroute them to a new elementary school, which has yet to be established. The school would only include kindergarten and would ultimately grow in size with the classes. Yet, based on the D.O.E.’s projections in the plan, overcrowding at P.S. 321 would be reduced only minimally, down by about 3 percent, while overcrowding would increase at P.S. 39. The new school is projected to open at the potentially highest rate of overcrowding of any school around, about 120 percent overcapacity.

I believe the plan needs to change. It seems to me that the Office of Portfolio Management took the recommendations of the P.S. 321 principal but did not get sufficient input from other educators affected. In an attempt to reduce overcrowding in select areas, the proposal wreaks havoc on several school communities including mine. I hate to draw attention to P.S. 39 because somehow it still feels like a secret treasure in the city: a small school that works well. A multi-cultural haven. We value our treasure and it's time to defend it from a bad plan.