Raise your hand if you’re planning to send your child to kindergarten in the next year or two,” someone said at the beginning. I wasn’t, so I didn’t.
The message at my “first” meeting was clear. The city’s Department of Education was not thinking about where my toddler would go to school, even though I had been making plans for years.
It was my first meeting as a parent advocate, but as the former editor of another paper I had covered hundreds of Downtown community forums on many topics. Both perspectives have led me to the same conclusion about school zoning proposals: They are developed with little knowledge of communities, little information about future enrollment and little regard for parents.
The first draft of this year’s plan would have blocked me and my Chelsea neighbors from our first-choice neighborhood school only three blocks away. This would have been done to make room for Greenwich Village children who did not want to travel a mile to my first choice, P.S. 11. The school apparently has room to expand, but the city nevertheless wanted to lock out the families who most wanted to be there in order to force Village kids out of their neighborhood schools to make room for Tribeca children zoned out of the coveted P.S. 234.
The madness of the scheme was immediately obvious to many, including the parent leader of the Community Education Council, who described it as such, but it took a few months for the city to back off and offer a new plan that was somewhat better, although it left little time to make changes before kindergarten enrollment began.
This is far from the first time ill-conceived plans have been floated. Two years ago, the city proposed cutting the school zoning line through a Tribeca building complex so that the wealthiest residents would be zoned for P.S. 234, while middle-income tenants would have to travel farther away. The class-based zoning line did not appear to be the intention and it was subsequently altered, but it is the kind of mistake that is easily made when communities are not consulted earlier in the process.
Talking with neighborhood groups, preschool directors and parent leaders early would produce plans that would upset fewer people and keep parents of young children informed early in the planning. These are the parents most likely to be affected and least likely to hear about proposed changes because they are not yet tapped into the school system.
The second draft plan this year satisfied our concerns in Chelsea but was unnecessarily unfair to Village and Tribeca families. Some people living close to the two most desired schools, P.S. 41 and 234, would still be zoned out to provide seats for those living farther away. A new group of families in eastern Tribeca were all of a sudden aggrieved in order to relieve north Tribeca.
District 2’s Community Education Council, a group of parents with the power to reject city zoning proposals, probably took the best available option, keeping the lines the same in Tribeca, the Village and Chelsea— though it may lead to wait lists again this year at P.S. 234. It really is anyone’s guess.
Eric Greenleaf, an NYU professor and Lower Manhattan parent who has closely tracked Downtown population and enrollment figures, argues that the city has avoided doing more accurate enrollment estimates because they would show the need to build more schools. He says Community Board 1 has received better information using urban planning students provided by the borough president’s office.
If there are waiting lists at 234, it will undoubtedly mean another group of Tribeca families will be upset—those living right near the school who could easily be denied a seat.
We have not heard much from them—yet.
I only hope the educators learned something this time around. This year’s decision means another zoning change is coming in a year or two, and my son is due to enroll somewhere in 2015.
Special Sections Editor, Josh Rogers
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