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In District 3, parent council recommends only minor rezoning

The New York Times reported yesterday that anxiety over an impending rezoning of the Upper West Side had families frantic about whether their assigned neighborhood school could change overnight. Last night, the parent group that ultimately gets to approve any change took a step toward eliminating the worries, recommending a scaled-down rezoning that would affect only a small number of families.

Since the Department of Education first proposed rezoning the area in late September, some Upper West Side families feared being shut out of their neighborhood school, and at least one school, the Center School, railed against a plan that would require a handful of schools to relocate.

In a meeting last night that was closed to public comment, the Community Education Council for District 3 recommended that the Center School vacate the building it shares with PS 199, in which classes must be held in hallways, and move seven blocks south to PS 9. Space would be made available there by relocating the citywide gifted school, Anderson, to a middle school building on West 77 Street.

Center School administrators and parents oppose such a move, saying that the school has thrived in its current location, despite its tight quarters. But if the Center School doesn’t move, PS 199 would be able to have just two kindergarten classes next year, meaning that 75 percent of prospective families would be shut out, according to CEC 3 member Jennifer Freeman. “That’s too many kids to leave out” of a zoned school, Freeman said.

The school relocations appeared in one of the DOE’s two original proposals. But the CEC’s draft resolution departs from the DOE’s proposals by delaying the timeline for even the minor rezoning it recommends — a reduction in the size of the zone for PS 199, which this year had to open seven kindergarten classes — to 2010.

And the resolution reiterates the council’s call for a new school building to accommodate families moving into new buildings at the southern end of the district. The city’s new capital plan, released yesterday, doesn’t include any new schools for District 3, but Freeman told me she is “hopeful” that the DOE will still commit to building a new school.

Eric Shuffler, whose 4-year-old son would attend PS 199 next year, told me that parents are “grateful” that the CEC “clearly recognizes that the neighborhood children should receive priority to their neighborhood zoned school.”

At a CEC meeting next week, the DOE will present a new plan and the public will be able to comment on both the CEC’s and DOE’s proposals. The council will vote on a finalized plan at its Nov. 19 meeting, concluding the process in advance of the DOE’s Nov. 30 deadline.

Until then, parents at PS 199 and the Center School are likely to continue sparring. A message posted to the Center School’s parent Yahoo group this morning urged parents to write letters to the New York Times opposing the school’s relocation. In response, a parent zoned for PS 199 e-mailed a group of neighbors who have been active in fighting for the school: “I think we should go on a similar writing campaign thanking the CEC for doing the right thing.”

The full text of CEC 3’s draft resolution:

DRAFT * * * Resolution on School Overcrowding * * * DRAFT District 3 Community Education Council (CDEC3) Whereas, CDEC3, as per CDEC3 Resolution of July 16, 2008, and New York State Education Law 2590-e.11, has worked with the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and the District 3 community to address overcrowding in the district through a process of working and public meetings, information gathering and public comment. Whereas, the District 3 Community Education Council (CDEC3), has read, listened to and carefully analyzed reports and comments on the DOE school relocation and rezoning proposals, including those submitted verbally and in writing by parents, school community representatives, elected officials, and other community organizations, such as Community Board 7, and Whereas, CDEC 3 agrees that making room for children to attend their neighborhood zoned schools and keeping families with siblings together are both high priorities, and Whereas, CDEC 3 agrees that causing disruption to the smallest number of people for the shortest amount of time, while benefiting the largest number of people and adjusting school spaces and zones to match those schools’ expected level of enrollment, is a high priority, and Whereas, CDEC 3 values allowing movement among district schools in order to maintain access to the rich tradition of educational choices already in place, and Whereas, CDEC agrees that crowding/charter school issues in District 3 above 110th Street must be addressed, and Whereas, CDEC 3 recognizes the need for pragmatic solutions to overcrowding to be implemented by September 2009; now therefore be it Resolved that in light of the values expressed above, CDEC 3 recommends acceptance of a plan involving both relocations and zone changes, specifically: Relocation of MS 243 (The Center School) to the PS09 building; and relocation of PS/MS 334 (The Sarah Anderson School) to the MS 44 (O’Shea) building, with the understanding that DOE will demonstrate that adequate space exists for the Computer School and MS44 in their current location, and the Center School and the Anderson School to remain in their new buildings without any further disruption caused by population growth; and be it Resolved that CDEC 3 recommends that the zone of PS199 be modified, effective in the 2010-2011 school year, so that its zoned population can fit into six kindergarten classes, providing that any zone line changes will take into account the ability of neighboring schools PS 191 and PS87 to expand their zoned populations slightly, and be it Resolved that CDEC 3 recommends that other school zone lines be redrawn only where necessary to relieve current overcrowding and establish sustainable zone size (approval subject to analysis of DOE data), and be it Resolved that CDEC 3 recommends that sibling preference be retained in the admissions system, while in the event that families are zoned out of their current school under this plan, siblings from those families will still be considered as siblings in the zone, and be it Resolved that CDEC 3 recommends that any redrawing of zone lines fit a pragmatic pattern of serving specific community needs, rather than following a standard formula, and be it Resolved that CDEC 3 recommends that the school relocation and rezoning be implemented in stages, with the relocation occurring in the summer prior to the 2009-10 year, and the minor rezoning the next year, in consultation with CDEC3, and be it Resolved that CDEC 3 recommends that new schools be built and/or space be leased to accommodate the anticipated student population resulting from residential development in District 3, and that this be factored into the capital plan, and be it Resolved that CDEC3 warmly thanks all those who joined in this difficult process of balancing the choices available.