Parents pan plan to split apart Village school zone

A Department of Education map showing the rezoning plan, which is being done to accommodate two new schools.

BY SAM SPOKONY  | With a vote for approval only days away, many parents are unhappy with the Department of Education’s proposed changes to District 2 school zones affecting Greenwich Village, Chelsea and the Flatiron District. The changes would help pave the way for filling seats at a new public elementary school scheduled to open in September 2014.

The new school, P.S. 340, will be located at W. 17th St. and Sixth Ave., and has been dubbed the Foundling School because it will occupy the first six floors of the New York Foundling Hospital building.

By designating students for the Foundling School’s catchment area — as well as adding some students to the zone for the currently undercapacity P.S. 11 — D.O.E. aims to reduce major overcrowding problems at P.S. 41 and P.S. 3 that have been piling up for years. P.S. 41, on W. 11th St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves., is currently 35 percent over student capacity, and P.S. 3, on Hudson St. near Grove St., is 9 percent over capacity.

Under D.O.E.’s 2014 proposal, the Foundling School’s oddly shaped catchment zone would have an easternmost boundary of Park Ave. South/Fourth Ave., starting from the north at E. 23rd St., and a southernmost boundary of 12th St./Greenwich Ave., finishing at its westernmost point at the intersection of W. 14th St. and Eighth Ave.

The northwest boundary of the Foundling School’s zone would cut a jagged path — along W. 14th St. between Eighth and Seventh Aves.; along Seventh Ave. between W. 14th and W. 18th Sts.; along W. 18th St. between Seventh Ave. and Fifth Ave.; along Fifth Ave. between W. 18th and W. 23rd Sts.; and along E. 23rd St. between Broadway and Park Ave. South.

At the District 2 Community Education Council’s Nov. 19 meeting, about a dozen parents of children who live on 12th and 13th Sts. — who would be bumped out of the zone currently shared by P.S. 41 and P.S. 3 and into that of the Foundling School — spoke out against the proposal. They made two main arguments against the plan: first, that it would be dangerous to force their children to cross busy 14th St. intersections each day; and second, that the zone’s 12th St. southernmost boundary unfairly carves a section out of the Greenwich Village community.

In a presentation at the C.E.C. meeting, D.O.E. representative Drew Patterson said that part of 12th St. was drawn as the southernmost boundary for the proposed zone because it seemed part of a “natural barrier.” But the objecting Village parents all believed that the Foundling School’s boundary should go no farther south than 14th St.

“There’s nothing natural about a barrier that says I will be zoned out of a school that’s around the corner from my apartment,” said Amy Frisch, a P.S. 41 parent who lives on 12th St. “And in the end, the people who are being zoned out are those who have already invested so much in this community.”

Carol Greitzer, who represented the Village in the City Council from 1969 to 1991, and is a former P.S. 41 parent, attended the C.E.C. meeting specifically to protest the 12th St. boundary.

P.S. 40 Principal Susan Felder said that D.O.E. should take the time to compile more data before making zoning changes that affect multiple schools throughout Manhattan. Photo by Sam Spokony

“I would never let a kid cross 14th St. now, because there’s just too much traffic, especially with the buses,” Greitzer said. “If you care about the children’s safety, you have to move the line up to 14th St.”

But Joseph Smith, the father of 3-year-old twins and a 2-year-old, and who lives within the proposed zone for the Foundling School — “just around the corner” from the school, he said — claimed that Village parents shouldn’t be so worried about the boundary placement.

“I think the safety concerns of crossing 14th St. are being overstated,” he said, adding, “The Foundling School deserves a zone that’s big enough to make sure that it doesn’t suffer from a lack of enrollment.”

Notably, the 2014 proposal would also split the shared P.S. 41 and P.S. 3 zone. Along with giving each school a separate catchment area, that change would remove the choice that has for many years existed for parents who live in the shared zone, which currently includes the vast majority of all the blocks between West St., W. 16th St., Fourth Ave./Bowery and Canal St.

By splitting the large zone, D.O.E. has said that it aims to further alleviate both overcrowding and administrative enrollment issues in the two schools.

Many parents and teachers from both schools spoke out against the zone split at the C.E.C. meeting, claiming that it would not solve those problems and would instead have a negative effect on the community. Some asserted that taking away parents’ ability to choose between P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 would not only be a bad move, but undemocratic.

P.S. 3 Principal Lisa Siegman noted that last year she supported the zone split — though it was drawn differently than the current 2014 proposal. Speaking at the Nov. 9 meeting, however, she stated she could not support the current plans because, as she said, “I’m not convinced that this zoning proposal will allow our school to effectively continue its mission.”

Kate Brady, a P.S. 3 parent, explained that she chose the school for her child after doing careful research between the two Village schools, and that the choice paid off. A neighbor, she added, ended up choosing P.S. 41, and felt similarly happy with that decision.

“Choice is a good thing,” Brady said. “It works. And I know it can be an administrative headache, but it benefits our kids, and that’s what really matters here.”

But there were some people who supported the zone split.

Four teachers from P.S. 41 spoke together, believing that the split would “give us clarity” by alleviating overcrowding and other tensions.

“Every year we see too much parent confusion about kindergarten registration,” said Ria Kominos, who teachers kindergarten at P.S. 41. “Change is never easy, but splitting the zone is in the best interest of all the families in this area, and leaving things the way they are just shouldn’t be an option.”

To the further chagrin of some parents and teachers in other neighborhoods, D.O.E. also recently merged all of the aforementioned 2014 plans with another set of proposed zone changes, which seek to make room for a new elementary school in Murray Hill that’s set to open in September 2013.

That school, P.S. 281, under construction at E. 35th St. and First Ave., and its proposed rezoning measures would affect four existing schools — P.S. 40, P.S. 116, P.S. 59 and P.S. 267 — whose current zones collectively span all the way from Gramercy to the Upper East Side.

P.S. 40, on E. 20th St. between First and Second Aves., would be especially hard hit in terms of zoning changes, because it would face one set of changes under the 2013 portion of the plan and yet another under the 2014 portion, to make way for the Founding School.

Susan Felder, the principal of P.S. 40, spoke strongly against the combined proposal at the Nov. 9 meeting, imploring D.O.E. to separate the 2013 and 2014 proposals.

“Why such a dramatic change?” Felder asked. “The merging of these two previously separate plans makes this so much more complex than it should be.”

She suggested that, instead of doing such significant rezoning before the two new schools open, D.O.E. should wait until more concrete data can be collected about how the new schools will affect overall enrollment in the affected areas.

Virtually the only contingent that came to the C.E.C. meeting to wholeheartedly support the proposed zoning changes included parents from P.S. 267, which has been facing under-enrollment issues for years. That school, on E. 63rd St. between Second and Third Aves., would add all of E. 58th St. — from Fifth Ave. to the East River — to its catchment area under the proposal.

“We’re suffering,” said Matthew Chook, a P.S. 267 parent, “We simply need the added zone, because we’re giving back hundreds of thousands of dollars to the city each year because we don’t have enough students. It’s despicable that other schools can have over-enrollment problems, while we still don’t have enough.”

C.E.C. District 2 President Shino Tanikawa said on Tuesday that, while a date hasn’t been decided yet, the Community Education Council will vote on whether or not to approve the proposal sometime during the first two weeks of December.

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