At P.S. 199, the teachers’ lounge has been converted to class space. Specialty classrooms like art rooms, science labs and music rooms have been used to teach basic curriculum. There are more than 30 children in each of the 5th grade classes, and since 2000, the number of kindergarten classes has more than doubled to seven from three.
“We actually need to add four new classes, but we only have one classroom left,” said Julie Mallin, co-chair of the P.S. 199 Political Action Committee. “We’ll have no choice but to increase class size even more. We’re in that much of a crunch.”
With the spate of development in the Upper West Side-310 apartment units were built near the school since 2007, according to a report by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer-and no plans to increase class space in the neighborhood in the near future, the Department of Education has proposed rezoning P.S. 199’s catchment area. The current zone for the school, at 270 W. 70th St. between West End and Amsterdam avenues, runs from West 71st to 64th streets between Central Park and the river.
The department unveiled the possible plans to District 3’s Community Education Council (CEC) last week. There were two proposals for rezoning: one that kept a middle school, the Center School, in P.S. 199’s building, and one that removed the middle school to open up space.
“Both [proposals] represent part of an ongoing conversation with District 3 parents about how best to reduce overcrowding in the district,” said William Havemann, a department spokesman. “We look forward to working with the CEC to arrive at the solution that best addresses the needs of District 3 students and families.”
As parents suss out the plan, the Community Education Council will consider their concerns and offer changes to the city’s plan, as well as its own proposal to address the overcrowding and zone changes. The council must approve the department’s proposal by Nov. 30. If the deadline passes without approval, the department will use administrative solutions to ease overcrowding, such as capping student enrollment, phasing out programs or relocating the Center School, according to a letter sent to the Community Education Council. These will likely be unpopular with parents and the community council, Mallin said.
“There’s a middle school that’s housed within our school, the Center School. If they were to relocate, we would have additional capacity, but they have no desire to relocate,” Mallin said.
Assuming funds will not be allocated to add capacity to the building, it is more likely that the department will move forward with a rezoning plan that keeps the Center School within P.S. 199’s building. That plan would cut out homes that are between West 71st and 67th streets from Central Park West to Broadway. These children would instead be zoned for P.S. 87. Though that school is considered overcrowded, the department crafted the proposal around an understanding that each school will eventually accept almost all zoned students, gradually eliminating those students who come from outside the catchment area.
This early P.S. 199 proposal is a part of an entire District 3 rezoning plan (visit www.westsidespirit.com to see a complete map of the proposed zone changes).
The department’s goal is to get the district’s “zone utilization”-or the distribution of children going to their zoned schools-to 83 percent. Parents with children enrolled in P.S. 199 will be exempt from the new zoning regulations. Siblings of enrolled children, however, may have to apply for an exemption to be placed in the school if there’s room, Mallin said.
“There are just a lot of concerns,” Mallin said. “It’s a very emotional topic. People are really passionate.”
The Community Education Council was slated to discuss the proposal on the evening of Sept. 23. Elizabeth Shell, the council’s president, said that parents spent the weekend before the meeting mulling over the proposal. The council has yet to formalize a unified response to the plan, but Shell hopes to have a consensus soon.
“We’ll see what we agree on,” Shell said. “It’s a work in progress. It’s just the beginning.”
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