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Upper West Side parents still fighting rezoning plan that would diversify schools

P.S. 199 (left) is a top-ranked school surrounded by pricey residential buildings. P.S. 191, which serves many students from the Amsterdam Houses (far right), has struggled with low test scores.
P.S. 199 (left) is a top-ranked school surrounded by pricey residential buildings. P.S. 191, which serves many students from the Amsterdam Houses (far right), has struggled with low test scores.
Patrick Wall

When the New York City Department of Education first announced plans to rezone District 3 on the Upper West Side, parents who opposed the plan quickly mobilized their troops. And it seems like their activism paid off: Last week the department said it would probably not seek to move the high-performing but space-challenged P.S. 452, one of the more contentious elements of the plan.

But a public hearing on Saturday on the rest of the plan shows the battle continues.

The city hopes to address overcrowding at P.S. 199 while also diversifying that school — along with P.S. 191 and P.S. 452. But parents whose children would be switched from the popular P.S. 199 to P.S. 191 showed up by the dozen to protest at the hearing.

“The idea that theoretical lines will alleviate such complex issues is an illusion,” said Hilary Kopple, who would be zoned to P.S. 191.

Currently, less than 10 percent of students at P.S. 452 and P.S. 199 are low-income. That’s compared to 49 percent at P.S. 191, which pulls most of its students from the nearby Amsterdam Houses public-housing development. That school’s test scores are lower than those of its neighbors, but it has a relatively new principal who parents and teachers say has put the school on an upward path. It was recently removed from the state’s “persistently dangerous” list.

“There’s a lot of stigma on the school,” said Alexa Perez-Velazquez, co-president of the P.S. 191 PTA. “Of course we have a lot of work to do, but we are moving in the right direction.”

P.S. 191 is slated to move into a brand new building next school year, partly in an attempt to make it more attractive to families who may be rezoned there. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced that it would open next fall, a year ahead of schedule. But appealing to parents who thought their children were headed to P.S. 199 is proving difficult. Some say the school needs to show sustained improvement before they consider sending their children.

“Moving 191 to a new building is not enough,” said Dan Schwarz, who has daughter in pre-K who would be zoned to P.S. 191. “Families will choose to go elsewhere.”

Others are skeptical that rezoning will relieve overcrowding at P.S. 199, which had the longest kindergarten waiting list in the city last year. Multiple new buildings are under construction within the proposed P.S. 199 zone, which could add more students.

The rancor at meetings like Saturday’s has largely overshadowed calls for a more ambitious plans to integrate the district. Some parents have pushed to create a “super-zone” around the schools that would assign students by lottery, or send all the zone’s students to one school for early grades, and then move them to another campus for later ones.

Matt Unterman, a local parent zoned for P.S. 191, said that rather than a plan that merely redraws district lines, he’d rather see a proposal that guarantees “equal opportunity” for all.

“This isn’t brave enough,” he said. “We’re passing up the opportunity and fighting about zone lines.”

Sarah Turchin, director of planning in Manhattan for the DOE, said the department hopes to finalize its latest proposal by October, with a vote by the Community Education Council expected in November.

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