District 3’s Community Education Council voted in favor of a fiercely contended rezoning and relocation proposal to alleviate overcrowding at a local elementary school. The proposal, which unanimously passed with one abstention at a Nov. 12 meeting, incorporates suggestions from the Department of Education and the parent council. The plan would move a small middle school, The Center School, from P.S. 199’s building on West 70th Street to the P.S. 9 building on West 84th Street. A second relocation, which has generated less protest, would place the Anderson school, a K-8 gifted and talented school, into the West 77th Street building that M.S. 44 shares with the Computer School.
Center School parents have been adamantly opposed to their school’s relocation as a solution for P.S. 199’s overcrowding. At the outset of last week’s emotional meeting, parent council members pleaded with angry parents, saying they had run the numbers to find a solution that would keep The Center School in place. However, the parent council felt that P.S. 199’s overcrowding was too dire to allow The Center School to stay put.
In a period of scheduled public comments from PTA presidents throughout the district, Center School parents and supporters spoke passionately about the need to preserve a racial and socio-economic mix as a reason to protect their diverse school.
Center School parents got a public boost from one of their own: actress and education activist Cynthia Nixon, known to many New Yorkers as Miranda from Sex and the City. Side by side with fellow Center School parent Mary DiPalermo, Nixon stood at the microphone and waited out boos from current and prospective P.S. 199 parents. She delivered an impassioned plea, saying that without The Center School, P.S. 199 would become a “de facto segregated school.”
On the other side, P.S. 199 parents and prospective parents praised the parent council’s plan for enabling small children to attend a neighborhood school.
John White, from the Department of Education’s Office of Portfolio Development, praised the parent council and tried to assuage parents throughout the evening.
“I ask that you understand that this represents, in many instances, a set of tradeoffs that we’re not enthused about making,” he said. “And yet we believe, the chancellor [Joel Klein] believes, that these are the best answers to ensuring that as of next fall we have stability, that we are not doing these meetings again next fall.”
White did not, however, directly address the diversity issue brought up by parents, saying he’d only respond to “fact-based” comments.
During the reading of the proposal just before the vote, about 50 parents from The Center School and their allies walked out of the room in protest. The vote then proceeded without incident. At press time, the parent council was expected to uphold the plan in a second vote, largely a formality, at a public meeting on Nov. 19.
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