By Lillian Rizzo
Following weeks of parents, community board and Community Education Council (CEC) District 2 members voicing their distress over the latest rezoning plan for Lower Manhattan, the Department of Education (DOE) presented a new plan on Monday, Nov. 28. "We are presenting one new proposal?and we will keep it simple," said Elizabeth Rose of the DOE at Monday's meeting.
Just weeks earlier, on Nov. 7, the DOE presented a rezoning proposal that displeased many community members and led to its rejection by the CEC less than two weeks later. In the hopes of pleasing the council, community board members and residents, the DOE this time introduced a school map that gave in to the demands they heard after the last rezoning meeting.
According to the DOE, the latest plan creates a zone for the new Peck Slip School scheduled to open in 2015. Until Peck Slip opens, children will attend classes at an incubation site at the Tweed Courthouse. The zones for P.S. 89 on Warren Street and P.S. 276 in Battery Park City will change, along with a portion of the P.S. 397 (Spruce Street School) zone. The P.S. 234 zone in Tribeca will not be touched, unlike in the last proposal. "P.S. 234 will likely have a waitlist because there won't be any change to the zone," said Rose.
This time, all parties seemed happier with the proposal, expressing concern only over the need for more schools in Lower Manhattan to fully solve the problem.
"I appreciate this new proposal and consider it much better than the previous one," said Einar Westerland, a P.S. 234 parent from Tribeca. "Most of us move to certain neighborhoods to send our kids to certain schools."
The CEC had criticized the earlier proposal because it sent children from Tribeca to P.S. 1 in Chinatown, creating divides that would mean children within the same apartment buildings or on the same streets would be in different zones.
"Families felt the proposal was breaking up their neighborhoods, and child safety and transportation issues were also involved," said Eric Goldberg of the CEC before the DOE presented their proposal. "Based on that feedback, we told the DOE we had to focus on creating a zone for Peck Slip and no other aspects."
At the meeting, Lower Manhattan parents seemed content with the proposal but still unhappy with the direction in which their local schools were headed as neighborhood populations increase.
"Being on the waitlist is so painful, especially for the child," said Christine Brogan. Her son was zoned for P.S. 234 but was waitlisted and eventually sent to P.S. 130 on Baxter Street in Chinatown. When room finally opened up in P.S 234, he transferred there. "Waitlists affect the entire district," she added.
Like Brogan, many parents asked the DOE to simply create more schools. It was the common theme of the night, what many believe will be the only solution to this problem. CEC and community board members already predict new schools will have waitlists before they even officially open their doors.
"We opened a new school last year," said Rose, of the Spruce Street School. "We have been opening a lot of schools in District 2 in the last few years." Rose also pointed to Peck Slip, the Foundling School and P.S. 281 at 35th Street and First Avenue, which are to be opened. District 2, which also reaches to the Upper East Side, will have another new school open there in the next few years.
As with the previous proposal, the CEC has until Dec. 14 to approve this latest plan so pre-registration for kindergarten classes in late January won't be disrupted. Since the entire CEC wasn't present at Monday night's meeting, they could not make a joint statement on how they felt about it.
However, Shino Tanikawa, CEC president, said after the meeting she was "personally happier with some aspects of the new proposal." Goldberg also felt the DOE had heard parents' feedback and incorporated it into this proposal.
"Even with the Peck Slip School, there are not enough seats," said Tanikawa. "I still wish the DOE would develop better projections."
There is still the remaining problem of the Southbridge Towers, cooperative buildings in Tribeca. Similar to the previous plan, Southbridge could be divided between the Peck Slip and Spruce Street schools.
"This will basically cut our community in half," said Danielle Bello, a Southbridge resident. "I urge the CEC to keep our kids zoned for Spruce Street. By forcing kids to be included at Peck Slip, you're basically slicing and dicing this community up."
The CEC plans to vote on the proposal at its Dec. 14 meeting.