PARK SLOPE — The Department of Education on Tuesday released a new rezoning plan for Park Slope schools that would leave P.S. 39's zone untouched and slice roughly a dozen blocks from the zone for popular P.S. 321.
The new map was unveiled in response to community feedback following the DOE's October announcement of plans to shrink the zones for P.S. 321, P.S. 107, reshape the zone for P.S. 39, and expand the zone for P.S. 10. The rezoning, which would take effect in 2013, is meant to ease overcrowding at P.S. 321 and P.S. 107.
At a Tuesday night public meeting of the District 15 Community Education Council, the DOE unveiled a "new scenario" that DOE Director of Planning Carrie Marlin said was "a better fit based on the feedback we've gotten."
Parents from P.S. 39 were overjoyed to see that their school's zone would keep its existing boundaries, but families who were cut out of the zone for P.S. 321 walked away angry. Changes to the zones for P.S. 10 and P.S. 107 would remain as they were first proposed in October.
The newly proposed P.S. 321 zone eliminates 13 blocks between Fifth Avenue and Third Avenue running from President Street to Sixth Street between Third and Fourth avenues, and President Street to Fifth Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues.
Families in that area would send their kids to a newly created elementary school set to open next year in the former St. Thomas Aquinas school building at 211 Eighth St. and Fourth Avenue.
That plan doesn't sit well with young families who bought brownstones or condos in the former P.S. 321 zone believing they would be able to send their kids to what's regarded as one of the best schools in Brooklyn.
"People like myself who are getting rezoned are clearly getting the shaft...To me, it's borderline reverse discrimination," said one dad, who got a big round of applause when he asked that current property owners in the P.S. 321 zone who can prove their status with a mortgage deed be grandfathered into the zone.
He said he bought in the P.S. 321 zone thinking he was guaranteeing his children access to the school's experienced faculty and "million dollar PTA budget."
"Had we known about this before our purchase, we would have reevaluated," the frustrated father said. "Instead this ruling is getting forced down our throats."
Others worried that the redrawn lines would lessen P.S. 321's racial and socioeconomic diversity. The blocks being cut out of the zone run along Third and Fourth avenues, the more diverse end of Park Slope and Gowanus. The more affluent blocks closer to Prospect Park would stay in the P.S. 321 zone under the latest proposal.
"By drawing this [rezoning map] from north to south along Fourth Avenue you've effectively made P.S. 321, one of the best schools in Brooklyn, nicer, and less crowded for the families with the greatest resources, and taken it completely away from the families with less," said one concerned mom.
The DOE's Marlin said officials had carefully reviewed demographic figures and found that the rezoning would have only a "very, very minimal impact" on P.S. 321's diversity. Under the current rezoning plan, P.S. 321's kindergarten class would be 81 percent white. Currently it's 78 percent white, Marlin said.
Parents said they were reluctant to send their kids to the brand new, untested school in the Thomas Aquinas building.
"So far all we've been given is an empty building...It is very difficult to get behind a school we know nothing about when the other option (P.S. 321) is one of the best schools in the city," said one frustrated mom.
But P.S. 321 Principal Liz Phillips did what she could to calm those anxieties, pointing out that, if all goes as planned, P.S. 321 assistant principal Elizabeth Garraway will be installed as leader at the new school. Phillips said she would work with Garraway for three years to help get the new school up and running.
Phillips said the new school "is going to be another great Park Slope school," and noted that its smaller size will have advantages. "When I think about a smaller school where a principal can know every student in the school, that's really appealing," Phillips said.
Marlin said the DOE will arrange open-house sessions about the new school where parents can see the building and meet the proposed principal.
One rezoned mom nearly cried as she described her plan to move into the P.S. 321 zone for one year, then move away, so her kids would be guaranteed a spot at the school.
The DOE allows children who move out of their school's zone to continue attending their school, a policy that's been slammed by Park Slope parents who say P.S. 321 is full of kids who don't live in the school's zone.
The DOE's Marlin defended the rule Tuesday. “It is the best thing for students…When their education is disrupted it is not good for kids,” Marlin said.
Under the rezoning plan, crowded P.S. 321 would see its kindergarten class shrink from 272 kids to between 215 to 225 students. At P.S. 107, the kindergarten class would be reduced from 124 students to approximately 85 to 95 students, according to DOE data. Without the rezoning plan, P.S. 321's enrollment could swell to 1,717 students, putting its building at 155 percent of capacity, Marlin said.
The District 15 Community Education Council is expected to vote on the proposed rezoning on Nov. 28. City Councilman Brad Lander said he would arrange for more public meetings before the vote, because some families may not know they’ve been cut out of the P.S. 321 zone.