A rezoning of three Upper West Side schools seems unlikely to take effect this year, but the city and school zoning boards appear to be taking steps that could result in changes as early as 2017.
Rezoning proposals have been discussed since at least 2015, with a seemingly straightforward proposition turning into sometimes convoluted discussion.
At the heart of the discussions are Public School 199, on West 70th Street, whose students are mostly white and affluent but which is overcrowded; and Public School 191, on West 61st Street, whose student body is mostly poor and black and Latino and under-attended.
The city’s Education Department proposed shifting attendance zones such that students from PS 199 would attend PS 191.
The department eventually pulled the plug on that idea and proposed a new one, albeit much more complicated. PS 191 would move a block west, taking over a vacant building currently under construction that was intended to be a new school. Then another public school, PS 452, on West 77th Street, would move 16 blocks south into PS 191’s current space. PS 452’s population is similar to PS 199’s, so the idea is that it would be less of a transition and students and well as their families of PS 199 would be more open to PS 452 rather than PS 191.
However, many parents of PS 452 students oppose the move. At a Community Education Council zoning committee meeting Monday at PS 191, many parents of PS 452 students complained to board officials, saying the transition would be difficult for students.
“There is still a need for a neighborhood school,” said one parent, “Why are we not considering opening a new school in this building? Why aren’t we adding seats instead of shifting seats?”
Another PS 452 parent, Edward Ryan, said that the zoning board should simply open a new school instead of shifting those around in PS 452.
Scott Edelstein, who has two sons at PS 452, said the school has been working where it is, and a move could have a negative impact.
“We love you, we don’t want you to leave,” Edelstein said, addressing faculty, “We want you to stay and do miracles in the building we’ve been to. ... Why would you change something that’s working?”
While there were those that supported the move, they seemed to be in minority of those who spoke at the meeting. Many faculty of PS 452, however, support the move, mainly due to the increased amount of space PS 452 would gain by moving.
“I just want to implore you to be in favor of us moving,” Fred Dasig, who teaches fourth grade at PS 452, told parents who attended the meeting. “I’ve worked in buildings where we’ve had less space and less resources and it really limited what we could do with the kids. If we were to have the space I’m just thinking that all the great things that happened at 452 this year, we could reach more kids and do a lot more. Please think about how much more we can do or your kids in this building.”
Some parents also favored the move.
“The move will be a pain and an inconvenience, but I just can’t rationalize against increased facilities for our kids,” one parent said. “I can’t vote against a library, or a tech lab, or a science lab. And I just can’t dismiss the unanimous advice from these awesome educators … I can’t vote against the move.”
Lizabeth Sostre, a member of the District 3 Board of Equity in Education, asked what part zoning lines played and whether they were even useful.
“I imagined drawing the zoning lines ... they became a zigzag of conflict and confusion,” she said, “However, we already know what’s necessary to resolve the problem. Erase all the zoning lines, and then design something different. An admissions plan with no zones. Community controlled choice.”
Sostre’s observations were met with applause.
According to the District 3 website, community-controlled choice would completely erase zoning lines and make all schools in the district available to all students. It would also ensure that schools reflect a district’s demographic make-up. Community-controlled choice would apply to students entering elementary school, and would offer families a range of school choices, including of ones close to their home and ones with special programs. The goal of community-controlled choice is that admission to all schools in a district would be based off of a commitment to equity.
At this point, all of these ideas are only propositions, and nothing has been voted on. Another meeting is being planned for late July where these topics will receive further discussion.