MURRAY HILL — The Department of Education presented sweeping new changes to school zones in Chelsea and the West Village on Tuesday, making room for a new school set to open in the area in September 2014.
The proposal, unveiled at a meeting of the District 2 Community Education Council’s Zoning Committee, would split the zone currently shared by P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 into separate parts.
The goal of the change is to reduce over-enrollment in the two schools by directing students to both P.S. 11, which is under capacity, as well as a new school at the Foundling Hospital at 590 Sixth Ave.
Under the plan, northern part of the current P.S. 3/41 zone would be split between P.S. 11, which would expand its current Chelsea-based zone into the Village and the new Foundling School, which would be zoned roughly from Fourth Avenue to Eighth Avenue between West 12th and West 18th Streets.
The next area, roughly from West 11th to West 3rd Streets, from Fourth Avenue to the Hudson, would be zoned for P.S. 41.
The southern part of the neighborhood, roughly from West 3rd Street to Canal Street, from Mercer Street to the Hudson River, would be zoned for P.S. 3.
The geographical zone for SoHo’s P.S. 130 would shrink by a block under the proposal, but it will not change enrollment there, DOE officials said.
The plan to eliminate the shared zone between P.S. 3 and 41 comes both because of the new Foundling School and also because the huge geographical zone feeding into both school has caused massive overcrowding: P.S. 41 is currently at 135 percent capacity and P.S. 3 is at 109 percent capacity.
“In the short term, we’re seeing the potential for lower class sizes that will provide principals with greater flexibility in terms of programming,” said the Department of Education’s Jennifer Peng.
If a new student has an older sibling at a zoned school, they will be able to enroll in it even if the plan shifts them out of the school's area.
While parents and administrators still had to pour over the fine details of the plan, many lauded its goal of creating more manageable school zones and reducing overcrowding in the neighborhood’s popular schools.
The CEC hopes to approve the plan by the end of the year, giving parents plenty of time to prepare before the new school opens in fall 2014.
Kelly Shannon, the principal of P.S. 41, said the sooner the changes go into effect, the better.
“It has become an absolute necessity that this plan take effect as soon as possible,” she said, adding that it will take years to fix the overcrowding that exists in the schools today.
“We need to deal with space in each of these buildings for each of us to be able to maximize the education provided to these students.”
The DOE attempted to create separate zones for P.S. 3 and 41 in a proposal last year without taking into account the opening of the Foundling school, but it was rejected by the CEC. At the time, many parents were reluctant to get rid of the choice they had between the two schools. Under the earlier proposal, the school’s zone was split in half, with one zone in the east and the other on the west.
Despite significant changes to last year’s plan, the issue of whether parents have a choice about which schools to send their kids to resurfaced at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Previously there had been choice and now there’s a proposal for there to not to be choice,” said Eric Stern, a member of Community Board 5.
“We’ve had choice for such a long time, personally, I really would like to see a strong case for why these lines exist].”
But the DOE's Drew Patterson said the split, while painful, will have to happen to help keep the schools' enrollment manageable.
“We have choice, but we also have an obligation in both of those schools to serve their zoned population at the end of the day,” he said.
"We have no way to deal with an imbalance in the share of demand."
The CEC plans two more public input meetings before finalizing the proposal — the first will be at P.S. 3, 490 Hudson St. on Oct 24 at 6:30 p.m. The second will be at P.S. 130, 143 Baxter St., at 6:30 p.m.