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Despite a rally and walkout, UWS parent council votes to rezone

An Upper West Side parent council last night put its stamp of approval on a plan to ease overcrowding in public schools there. But opponents of the plan, who have been criticizing it for the past two months as stamping out diversity, kept up their fight until the very end.

The council’s resolution means that two schools, the Anderson School and the Center School, will relocate to other buildings in the neighborhood next fall. In 2010, people living in three small sections of the neighborhood will be reassigned to different elementary schools. All that remains now is for the Department of Education to execute the changes.

Opponents of the resolution included both Center School parents who don’t want their school to move and advocates of diversity, who think the resolution will make schools in the area more segregated. Some of those parents rallied before the meeting yesterday.

(View a video from last night’s rally, during which speakers condemn Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and swear to keep fighting for diversity. Yes, “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon appears, but unlike in last week’s video, she has a non-speaking role.)

Before the council approved the resolution in a 7-1 vote, dozens of parents, neighborhood residents, and elected officials delivered one-minute speeches expressing their support or opposition. The speeches lasted more than an hour.

Parents from the Center School said that relocating will interfere with the school’s success and decrease diversity in the PS 199 building where it is currently located. Center School supporters walked out partway through the meeting in protest.

Parents from PS 199, the school where the Center School is currently located, spoke out about their children’s need for art, music, and computer rooms, which the school is currently too crowded to have. Other parents who are zoned for PS 199 but whose children haven’t yet enrolled spoke in support of moving the Center School to ensure that there will be enough room for their children at PS 199.

State Sen. Tom Duane, who has supported the Center School, lamented the toll the conflict has taken on the neighborhood.

And Gary Goldstein, a former principal of PS 199, said he was “dismayed” by the situation. “There are no winners here,” he said, adding that if he were the Center School’s principal, “I, too, would feel so crushed.”

Also speaking were residents from buildings on Riverside Drive that lie inside one of the sections of the district that will be rezoned in the 2010-2011 school year. Several people from those buildings, including at least one man who said he has yet to begin a family, said they are not happy they are being reassigned from PS 199 to the lower-performing PS 191. They complained that they learned of the change only one week ago.

Jennifer Freeman, the council member who led the rezoning process, told the residents she agreed that they hadn’t been informed enough in advance of the council’s vote and encouraged them to appeal the rezoning. But she said the council would still vote on the resolution because it could not selectively approve the resolution’s contents.

“I know you haven’t known us for very long, but you have to trust us that that’s the correct process,” Freeman said during the meeting.

The lone dissenting vote came from a council member, Terry Gray, who said that if the council wasn’t satisfied with the Riverside Drive component of the rezoning, it shouldn’t vote to make it happen, even if that meant voting down the rest of the resolution as well. “We own zoning,” Gray said twice. He was referring to the fact that rezoning changes are among the only changes that can be made only by district parent councils, and not by the Department of Education.