A Win for P.S. 199, For now News

| 20 Nov 2015 | 04:05

The city Department of Education is holding off on a 2016-17 school year solution to overcrowding at P.S. 199 and other issues within district three on the Upper West Side.

Earlier this year the department floated a proposal that would shift students currently zoned for P.S. 199, an overcrowded and mostly white and affluent school, to P.S. 191, a mostly black, Latino and poor school that the state recently ranked as dangerous for having a high rate of violent incidents over a two-year period.

The department wanted to shrink the number of P.S. 199’s eligible students by redrawing the school’s zone, shifting a number of blocks to P.S. 191 on West 61st Street, where there’s an abundance of open seats. P.S. 199 parents expressed concern over sending their children to a school perceived as violent as well as one with low test scores, while fending off the perception that their preference was based on race.

Meanwhile, the principle of P.S. 191, Lauren Keville, as well as parents at the school, disagreed that P.S. 191 is dangerous and cited its improving safety record.

Community Education Council 3, which is made up of parents from around the district and has voting powers over any zoning changes in the district, rejected the department’s proposal and asked it to draw up a smaller but similar plan that moved fewer students from P.S. 199 to P.S. 191.

Noah Gotbaum, a member of CEC 3, said he’s surprised the DOE didn’t come back to the council with a smaller version of the proposal to rezone P.S. 199.

“All of us said we need more and better information, and unfortunately they didn’t come with any of it. So we’re disappointed they didn’t bring us a slimmed downed plan for the northern part of the zone or data we would need to evaluate it adequately,” said Gotbaum. “It’s disappointing and a little bit surprising.”

The council was also in the midst of discussing a number of other proposals before the DOE pulled the plug.

A second proposal put forth by the department would see P.S. 191 sharing a larger zone with P.S. 342, a school currently under construction on West 61st Street and slated to open in 2018. Students in the shared zone could attend either P.S. 191 or 342.

A third proposal submitted by the department would involve creating a “superzone,” which would enable parents to request placement in P.S. 199, 191 or 342, with any school that has more applicants than seats enrolling students on a lottery basis.

A fourth proposal, submitted by officials at P.S. 191, involved pairing the school with P.S. 342, a school currently under construction on West 61st Street that’s slated to open in 2018. P.S. 191, which currently serves pre-K through eighth-grade students, would shift its focus to teaching pre-K through second-grade students. When those students are ready for third grade they would move onto P.S. 342, pairing the two schools. P.S. 342 is being built for a larger population of students and would serve third through eighth grades.

The community education council pushed a deadline for deciding on a plan to vote on back from Nov. 19 to Dec. 2, but the DOE confirmed on Wednesday that it’s foregoing a decision this year in favor of devoting more time to finding a long-term solution for the 2017-18 school year.

“At this point, we have been unable to reach consensus on the best course of action and believe more time is needed to work with the community to develop a long-term plan for this area,” said Devora Kaye, a DOE spokesperson. “As such, the DOE will not present a plan at this time but will continue to partner with [Community Education Council 3] and elected officials to continue engaging the community around solutions.”

Kaye said students on P.S. 199’s waitlist will be offered spots in other district schools that have seats available for non-zoned students.

The move also allows P.S. 191 more time to bolster its credibility as a safe and attractive alternative to the severely overcrowded P.S. 199, which has had a kindergarten wait list of almost 100 students in recent years. P.S. 199, however, will have to deal with that overcrowding for another school year, and the district’s diversity issues remain unchecked.

“Because we didn’t go with the plan they’d proposed they basically took their ball and went home,” said Gotbaum.

Gotbaum called P.S. 199 “unsafe” due to it being over capacity, and said that the DOE denied a request by the community education council to reduce the number of kindergarten classes from six to five.

“We haven’t stopped working,” said Gotbaum. “We have control over zoning, we don’t have control over where schools move or enrollment. We can’t propose zoning changes on our own, and they can’t get zoning changes passed without us.”