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City postpones controversial plan to rezone two Upper West Side schools

The city postponed a contentious rezoning proposal on the Upper West Side on Wednesday, extending a months-long saga over two deeply divided schools.

The decision, first reported by the New York Times, leaves the popular P.S. 199 with a severe overcrowding problem. It also means that no families will find themselves switched out of 199’s zone into the zone for the neighboring P.S. 191, a school with much lower state test scores that has been fighting a “persistently dangerous” label.

Education department officials said they need more time to pick the best course of action and discuss long-term solutions with community members. But by sidestepping the backlash over its initial plans, the officials angered members of the local community education council, who said Wednesday that the city is taking the easy way out and leaving them with both an overcrowding crisis and two schools that are largely segregated by race and class.

“Treating us like Charlie Brown and Lucy with a football and pulling back the football at the last minute like this does not seem to me to be working in the spirit of partnership,” said Joe Fiordaliso, president of the District 3 council.

Nothing about this process has been simple. The two schools are largely divided along racial and socioeconomic lines, with more white and affluent students at P.S. 199 and more poor students of color at P.S. 191. Plans to bring some P.S. 199 families into P.S. 191 zone ignited a backlash from parents many of whom rented or purchased homes to send their children to sought-after P.S. 199.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he considers such housing choices when weighing diversity plans.

“You have to also respect families who have made a decision to live in a certain area oftentimes because of a specific school,” de Blasio said recently in response to a reporter’s question.

The overcrowding situation at P.S. 199 will now have to be addressed next year. The education department anticipates a waitlist for kindergarten students at P.S. 199 this year, according to spokeswoman Devora Kaye, who said the city will work with families to navigate the application process.

Parents floated a number of solutions to the problem that they hope will be explored as the city takes more time to craft a proposal. Some expressed frustration that the city paid little attention to diversity throughout the months-long conversation about rezoning.

“They presented us a plan which didn’t adequately address overcrowding and it certainly didn’t address the diversity issues in the district,” said CEC member Noah Gotbaum. “It seems like they didn’t even consider them.”

But waiting until next year to settle the rezoning question next year could also allow P.S. 191 to shed its “persistently dangerous” label, which has made it difficult to sell rezoning to the community, said Helen Rosenthal, the area’s city council member.

“We should always have been doing more for 191,” Rosenthal said Wednesday. “Not just because some 199 families might be rezoned there.”

The city will hold meetings to plan for the 2016 school year and beyond at P.S. 191 and P.S. 199 to discuss the interests of each school.

Some people who would have been moved to 191 were happy about the decision and hope the city will use the extra time to craft a better solution.

Lauren Pollak would have been removed from P.S. 199’s zone under the city’s initial proposal.

“It definitely was not the right proposal,” she said, “so I think from that standpoint it was a good thing.”