Upper East Side Principal and Parents Blast DOE Rezoning Plans
UPPER EAST SIDE — Although P.S. 290 has seen the ranks of its students — and wait-lists — swell in recent years, the head of the prestigious East 82nd elementary school is afraid that the city's plan to trim several blocks from its zone would not only reverse that trend but also lead to under-enrollment.
The change would also hurt the school's budget, since school funding is allocated based on the number of students, P.S. 290 Principal Sharon Hill told Department of Education officials at a Thursday night hearing on the proposed rezoning of Upper East Side elementary schools.
"As a principal, when I think of student enrollment, it's not only whether or not there are enough seats," Hill said. "Equally important is not having enough students" — and the loss of funding that brings.
DOE'S new rezoning proposal would remove a swath of roughly nine square blocks now zoned for P.S. 290.
Hill, who was joined by several of her school's parents, told DOE officials that this year, for the first time, her school had to cut arts, professional development and intervention services due to budget constraints.
"The budget cuts this year have been disastrous. My fear is the viability of the school [will be] impacted," Hill said of the proposed rezoning, pleading with the DOE to leave the blocks from East 84th to 86th between York and Lexington avenues in P.S. 290's zone.
The school had a wait-list of 64 students in June, with 164 zoned students vying for 100 seats.
"The wait-list was exhausted by the first week of school," Hill said. "We believe that will be the trend for the future."
Although the Upper East Side's elementary school zones were redrawn last year, they need to be overhauled again because the DOE is planning to open a new elementary school for the 2012 school year in the former Our Lady of Good Counsel building at 393 E. 91st St.
That space had housed the new P.S. 151 and now houses P.S. 51 from Hell's Kitchen, after health concerns from construction forced it to temporarily relocate.
Some of P.S. 290's blocks would be placed in the zone for the new school, and some would be added to P.S. 151, now located at 421 East 88th St., formerly home to Richard Greene High School.
P.S. 158 — which currently shares space with P.S. 267, a two-year-old school slated to move next year to East 63rd Street — would also get a smaller zone.
Before evaluating any rezoning plans, many parents at Thursday's meeting wanted to know what would happen with the vacated space at P.S. 158. A middle school might affect the size of P.S. 158, many parents said.
Several asked for the space to be turned into a middle school, saying that just as the area's elementary school numbers have increased, so too will the middle schools.
Many parents also asked for the Our Lady of Good Counsel building to be used as a middle school or to house an expanded version of the gifted and talented Lower Lab School, which currently shares a building with P.S. 198 on Third Avenue.
"What we need on the Upper East Side is not another elementary school, but another middle school," Hill added.
She also thought expanding the area's gifted and talented programs would help alleviate the strain and stress of P.S. 290's wait-list.
According to a community education council analysis, the neighborhood is projected to need 800 more elementary school seats by 2014.
DOE rep Elizabeth Rose told parents at the meeting that Our Lady of Good Counsel would only be used as an elementary school because of lease requirements with the Archdiocese, but parents will have an opportunity to voice their visions for the school at a hearing held there on Nov. 2.
Rose also noted that families this year will be getting notices about gifted and talented programs in May — a month earlier — after parent complaints about the lag behind general school letters.
Rose tried to assuage fears about potential P.S. 290 under-enrollment, telling parents the new zones would anticipate 115 zoned students applying for seats, plus siblings in the zoned-out areas who would be grandfathered in.
"It's still above the maximum and still leaves a cushion," Rose said. "We are planning a school for 80 seats."
Sarah Chu, a member of District 2's Community Education Council, who has also been a member of the Upper East Side's Community Board 8 for five years, urged the DOE to listen to parent input and consider the many moving parts of the area's elementary and middle school needs.
"Tonight is the first time I've heard parents say they want more students in a school," she said.
Community Board 8's Education Committee will be discussing the rezoning on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 7 p.m. at the New York Blood Center, 310 East 67th St.