Education leaders on the Upper West Side voted to give themselves two more weeks to vote on a proposal to address overcrowding at P.S. 199 and other zoning issues.
Community Education Council 3, which is made up of parents from around the district and has the final say on any zoning changes, had previously rejected a plan put forth by the Dept. of Education to shrink the number of eligible students at the school by redrawing P.S. 199’s zone, shifting a number of blocks to P.S. 191 on West 61st Street, where open seats abound.
But P.S. 191, also known as the Museum Magnet School, was recently classified as a “persistently dangerous” school by the DOE, a designation given to those public schools with a high rate of violent incidents over a two-year period. Residents who are zoned for P.S. 199 are wary of sending their kids to a school perceived as violent. The school is also predominantly black and Latino, adding concerns over diversity to an already fraught issue as parents struggle with the possible perception that their preference is based on race.
Another proposal put forth by the DOE includes 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.
The last proposal floated 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.
But while CEC 3 gathered Monday night to discuss the different options, much of the meeting was given over to a dark horse proposal from P.S. 191, which was decided upon that day by a leadership team at the school and announced by CEC 3 member Noah Gotbaum.
“After great deliberation we have decided that as a school community at the Museum Magnet School/P.S. 191 we support a rezoning plan that pairs our school with the new school under construction, P.S. 342,” said school leadership in a letter to the council. “We believe that this is the best option to integrate our school and to help with overcrowding in the district. We urge you to strongly consider this option as the best solution to this rezoning process.”
P.S. 191 currently serves pre-K through eighth-grade students, and under the terms of their proposal would shift their 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 leadership at P.S. 191 also added that they’re opposed to any lottery system for placing students, such as the one floated by the DOE, because they do not believe it will solve the diversity or overcrowding issues in the district.
Gotbaum, who is in favor of pairing all three schools - including P.S. 199, instead of just P.S. 191 and 342 - said the proposal floated by P.S. 191 is nonetheless an important and viable option that should be discussed.
“It’s big, it’s important that they’re taking a position here,” said Gotbaum in an interview. “They’re really proposing a significant compromise in terms of focusing their school for the pre-k through second grade in order to really serve the community and make the shared zone work.”
But the council seemed split over whether such a plan could be thought through in time for a vote, or could be implemented in time for the 2016-17 school year. Ultimately they decided to push back the date on which they would vote on any proposal from Nov. 19 to Dec. 2, using the extra time to discuss the options previously floated by the DOE as well as the new idea from P.S. 191.
They also decided to create two subcommittees, one to explore a less drastic zoning change that would shift fewer P.S. 199 students to 191, and another that would push the DOE for more detailed data on capacity and demand in the district. They also asked the DOE to draw up a new zoning map that would shift less students from P.S. 199 to P.S. 191.
The DOE had previously urged the council to decide by Nov. 19 so any changes could be implemented by the start of the kindergarten enrollment period, which begins Dec. 7 and runs through Jan. 15. As it stands, voting on any changes on Dec. 2 with the enrollment period beginning just five days later leaves some parents feeling uneasy.
Meanwhile, parents are pushing for a decision – or no decision, deferring this discussion to next year – so they know where they stand for the 2016-17 school year.
“I’m just really upset,” said Linda Cho, who has a son starting kindergarten in 2016-17 and is worried that any zoning change won’t be made in time to be integrated with the DOE’s enrollment system by Dec. 7. “To not know at that point where our kid is going to go, and they keep pushing [the vote] back…we won’t even know where we’re going. Just give it another year, why are they trying to rush something in?”
Both Cho and another Upper West Side parent, Jim Brennan, would rather the council table this discussion for next year.
“Now I have no idea where I sit,” said Brennan. “And it seems like even if they [vote] by Dec. 2 that means they’re going to put in a last-minute proposal and there’s going to be very little time for us to react and comment on it.”
The council will again take up the zoning issue on Monday, Nov. 16, 6:30 p.m., at P.S. 333 on West 93rd Street.