Chelsea Parents Reject School Rezoning Plans

By Mathew Katz on October 12, 2011 8:11am 

Leandro Herbstein and Vaness Merlis are afraid they'll have to send their daughter, Maya, to P.S. 33.
Leandro Herbstein and Vaness Merlis are afraid they'll have to send their daughter, Maya, to P.S. 33.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA Chelsea parents came across loud and clear at a school rezoning meeting at P.S. 11 — they don’t like the idea of changing where their kids will go to school.

Dozens of parents from the neighborhood, along with others from TriBeCa and the West Village, rallied at a meeting Tuesday night to oppose the Department of Education's proposals to change zoning for much of the lower west side of Manhattan.

In Chelsea, the biggest changes would send children in the southern section of the Penn South co-op, currently zoned for P.S. 11, to P.S. 33.

“I feel that my child’s education and their future is in jeopardy,” said Vanessa Merlis, wearing a ‘No Rezoning’ sticker while holding her infant daughter, Maya. “We chose P.S. 11 because it’s a community we already feel a part of.”

Many Penn South parents at the meeting had waited months or years to get into the P.S. 11 zone, only to find out that their kids may have to go to P.S. 33. Merlis and her husband, Leandro Herbstein, waited two years to move into a Penn South building zoned for their school of choice.

“All the kids in the area are going to grow up together,” Herbstein said. “Suddenly, my son is not.”

The rezoning is ostensibly to fight overcrowding, among other issues, in schools across District 2, but no parents attending the meeting on Tuesday supported the proposals.

Many were especially upset about a lack of data about school growth, along with several upcoming changes in the neighborhood, including the opening of Foundling School which is scheduled to start accepting students in 2014.

“I think that patience and getting real data on the district and the neighborhood will make the real difference,” said Community Board 4 Chair Corey Johnson, who also said it was crazy not to account for condos sprouting up in West Chelsea, along with the looming specter of the Hudson Yards project.

With those changes, some feared that there would be more rezoning proposals by the time they had another child ready to go to school.

“To change [the zoning] only to change it in a couple years is short-sighted,” said Sascha Tobacman-Smith

The proposed rezoning would shift P.S. 11’s zone so that many parents in the West Village would send their children there. But both Chelsea and West Village parents said they didn’t want the change.

“Nothing against Chelsea, but our son doesn’t connect to Chelsea,” said Donald Maass, who lives in the West Village. “I’ve got to say that if my kid can’t go to school in his neighborhood, I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

Others in the southeast corner of Chelsea didn’t want to give up their ability to choose between P.S. 3 and P.S. 41. The proposal would put them into P.S. 11’s zone.

“You have to put much more stability within the zoning,” said Catherine Doyle, who chose to live in the zone shared by P.S. 3 and P.S. 41. “It really wants to make you pack your bags and think of a new solution other than the public school system.”

While both P.S. 33 and P.S. 11 are under capacity according to the Department of Education, P.S. 33’s test scores are worse. Chris Field, whose son goes to the school, said it couldn’t handle the influx of students from Penn South.

“P.S. 33 really is packed now, so if you look at the proposal, it’s going to become really packed,” he said.

After dozens of parents spoke against rezoning, some Community Education Council members expressed their own reservations about the proposal, but also warned that there could be some trade-offs to keeping things the way they are.

“We hear you loud and clear, but it’s not a free lunch,” said council member Michael Markowitz. “Schools, increasingly so, have waitlists. You may be zoned for a school, but that’s no guarantee you’re going to get in.”

The council will likely take a final vote on the rezoning proposal in December, and will take more public comment before then, but some parents, including Vanessa Merlis, still find the plans to be a very real possibility.

“I know P.S. 33 is improving,” she said. “But it’s not going to be good enough in the time I need it to be.”

The next public comment meeting of the District 2 Community Education Council will be on Oct. 26, 2011 at P.S. 116, 210 E. 33rd St.

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