Controversial Rezoning for Park Slope's P.S. 321 Approved

By Leslie Albrecht on November 29, 2012 11:11am 

PARK SLOPE — Dozens of families will be cut out of the zone for popular P.S. 321 and sent to a new school in 2013 under a controversial rezoning proposal approved Wednesday night.

The District 15 Community Education Council voted unanimously in favor of the Department of Education's rezoning plan, which will also shrink the zone for crowded P.S. 107 and expand the zone for P.S. 10. The plan calls for a new K-5 school to open at the St. Thomas Aquinas building on Fourth Avenue and Eighth Street.

"I have to vote for this — there isn't much reasonable choice," said CEC 15 Vice President Mark Kolman, whose comments were echoed by his fellow CEC members. "We have very little choice if we want to see our schools succeed and continue to succeed as well as they have."

The DOE crafted the rezoning plan to ease overcrowding at P.S. 321 and P.S. 107, two of the neighborhood's most highly-regarded schools. Officials warned that without rezoning, the two schools would have to resort to "capping," meaning that waiting lists would be used to dole out kindergarten seats.

Winning a spot in coveted P.S. 321 and P.S. 107 is often a driving force behind real estate purchases, and some parents said being removed from those schools' zones would take a significant bite out of their property values.

Parents also charged that the rezoning would reduce diversity at P.S. 321 and P.S. 107, because the blocks that will be removed from those schools' zones are in the less affluent  western end of the neighborhood.

CEC members said Wednesday they had been inundated with "thousands" of emails — including some with graphs and data — from parents angry about the rezoning proposal.

CEC President Jim Devor said some of the arguments parents made were "less than compelling," but he agreed that questions raised about the safety of having children cross busy Fourth Avenue to get to and from the new school at the Thomas Aquinas building were "genuine and real."

CEC member Rachel Porter agreed, but pointed out that plenty of children already cross the avenue — on their way to P.S. 321. "It's not a new issue," Porter said.

There was no public comment allowed at the Wednesday meeting, but state Assemblywoman Joan Millman spoke in opposition to the rezoning before the session officially started. She and Assemblyman James F. Brennan submitted a letter calling the rezoning an "abrupt proposal to break up the historic identities" of the schools.

The rezoning plan, first unveiled in October, originally called for changing the zone for P.S. 39 as well, but that idea was scrapped after parents complained. At a public hearing on the rezoning this week, parents from P.S. 10 families raised concerns about whether the DOE was using accurate data about the school's capacity, the blog Park Slope Stoop reported.

P.S. 10 parent Amy Schwartzman said the DOE assumed that an average of about 76 in-zone kids enroll in kindergarten each year, when in fact 106 children enrolled this year, leaving the school far less room for new students.

"We're all upset," Schwartzman said after the CEC vote. "We're concerned that we don't really have the ability to accommodate all those students."

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