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Downtown residents disappointed by school zones proposal

Tribeca’s P.S. 234 is no stranger to overcrowding, but last night the packed auditorium was full of stressed downtown parents instead of their children.

The parents were there to speak out on the Department of Education’s rezoning proposal for downtown Manhattan during the first of multiple public hearings held by the Community Education Council for District 2.

It is the third time District 2 has been rezoned in as many years as new schools have come online to serve the district’s growing number of families. In 2009, the department offered up multiple rezoning options, pitting parents against each other based on how their children would be affected. This year, the department released a single proposal for the council to revise and approve.

“We went through some wars together,” Elizabeth Rose, from the DOE’s department of portfolio management, told the parents at last night’s meeting. “Tonight, I’m mostly here to listen.”

Rose, CEC members, and other officials heard parents complain that they had moved to Tribeca in order to send their children to the popular P.S. 234, only to find out that they could be rezoned and see the value of their homes fall. They heard concerns about changes to a longstanding policy of treating the West Village as a single zone shared by multiple schools. And they heard worries about the “sketchy” neighborhood that students might have to walk through to get from Tribeca to P.S. 3 in the West Village.

Together, the parents argued that the rezoning proposal did not meet downtown’s real needs: for the DOE to bring school zones in line with neighborhood boundaries, ensure students’ safety during their commutes, and build more schools in Lower Manhattan.

They also said that the rezoning proposal is inducing an identity crisis for Tribeca, whose name is based on having Canal Street as a northern boundary. The new plan would use North Moore Street, roughly five blocks away, as a school zone line, forcing families in the northern tip of Tribeca to make the trek above Canal Street to P.S. 3.

“By making this division, you are cutting Tribeca in half,” one parent said.

“It’s asking you not to be neighbors with your neighbors,” a later speaker echoed.

And no matter how the zoning issues are resolved — in an iterative process that could take months — some speakers reminded the community that shifting zones was a temporary solution for a neighborhood that is bursting at the seams with new residential buildings and a rising birth rate.

Rezoning “is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic,” said Tricia Joyce, a P.S. 234 parent. “The nose of the ship is going down and our children are on it.”

Michael Markowitz, CEC council member and co-chair of the zoning committee, agreed with Joyce’s metaphor: “No one should think that rezoning is anything other than making the life boats sink concurrently.”

The ultimate solution community members called for – well beyond the scope of what could have been resolved in a single evening and unlikely at a time of continuing budget cuts – was more school construction. One speaker got a head start on the hunt for real-estate, begging the DOE to place a bid on a foreclosed building across the street from his apartment.

“Quite frankly we don’t have the capital plan to build all of the seats we would like to build,” Rose said.

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