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Parents 'Beyond Disappointed' After City Tables School Rezoning Plan

By Emily Frost | November 20, 2015 4:23pm | Updated on November 23, 2015 8:36am
 CEC members said they were disappointed all the meetings and discussions they held as a council and with the public had not led to a zoning plan.
CEC members said they were disappointed all the meetings and discussions they held as a council and with the public had not led to a zoning plan.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

UPPER WEST SIDE — Disappointed. That word was said by nearly every parent and education leader Thursday night at a meeting with the Department of Education to discuss why the department didn't present a new rezoning plan for the district. 

Parents and Community Education Council leaders bemoaned the hours spent trying to reach consensus on a short-term plan, after the DOE's first and larger plan was rejected by the CEC, only to have the DOE back out of offering any alternative.

"I’m working out where to send my babysitting invoice [from the meetings]," said one parent. 

"The DOE just doesn't care,"  said parent and former P.S. 199 PTA President Eric Shuffler. "There’s no other way we can walk out of this process than to think that the mayor and the DOE don’t care."

The Education Department has said that they will continue to meet with parents, PTA members, teachers, elected officials and CEC members at P.S. 191 and P.S. 199, two of the schools most affected by any rezoning in the southern end of the district, as part of an "ongoing" process to help both schools. 

But no changes will be made to the districts' zoning map in the meantime.

"We think this is the appropriate time to step back," said Sarah Turchin, director of planning for the department. "Getting into the weeds on the [zoning] lines was taking away.. from the bigger picture." 

But CEC members and parents said more meetings and no action is not the answer. 

"What are more meetings going to accomplish?" said CEC President Joe Fiordaliso.

"We’re beyond disappointed and we can keep talking, but nothing is getting done," said P.S. 199 PTA member Wendy Hutter. "We could do something. Something is better than nothing. And we’ve done nothing."

The department sensed there wasn't enough consensus on the CEC for a new zoning plan to pass, Turchin said. And the DOE didn't want to put forward an interim plan only to have to redo it later. 

For P.S. 199's overcrowding situation, which parents characterize as a "crisis," she said the DOE would strongly suggest zoned parents list P.S. 452 as their second choice during the kindergarten application process. 

But P.S. 452 can only accept roughly 20 of the students on the P.S. 199 wait-list, which is anticipated to be as high as 100 students, she said.

Having parents list P.S. 452 as a second choice would lead to "more buy-in" to the school as a great option, she said. This buy-in means families are more likely to stay at P.S. 452 rather than return to P.S. 199 in first grade, she said. 

Families that are zoned to P.S. 199 but get wait-listed and attend another school for kindergarten have the right to come back in first grade, when there are more spots under the city's "right of return" policy.

The CEC has said that revoking this policy would ease overcrowding at P.S. 199, which is more than 160 students over capacity.

Tuchin said right of return was not up for change.

DOE officials also would not commit to only five kindergarten classes at P.S. 199, another one of the CEC's recommendations, and said the school would have six kindergarten classes again because of the anticipated wait-list. 

The DOE also cannot prevent new buildings from getting zoned to P.S. 199 because of overcrowding, said Turchin. The CEC wanted to shut out new residential developments from the P.S. 199 zone as another way to help the school.   

"We don’t differentiate between how much somebody spent or did not spend on their apartment," in determining zoning lines, said Turchin. 

Other parents agreed that while the situation was frustrating, perhaps it presented an opportunity to craft a district-wide rezoning plan. 

Emmaia Gelman, a parent at P.S. 75 on West 95th Street, said the schools in the northern section of the district were at a "crisis level of segregation," and called them "apartheid schools."

The CEC and DOE's job is also to focus on the district-wide "segregation and racism," she said, not just on four schools in the south. 

She and a few other parents lobbied for the CEC to put controlled choice — where race, socioeconomic status and learning differences are taken into account in zoning — on the table in a meaningful way.

The CEC agreed to consider controlled choice.

The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 30 at 154 West 93 St. at 6:30 p.m.

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