The Community Education Council in District 3 is pushing its own sweeping rezoning proposal to address overcrowding and integrate Upper West Side schools, according to a lengthy letter to schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
The CEC doesn’t have the authority to redraw zone lines — that responsibility lies with the city Department of Education. But it is ultimately up to CEC members to approve whatever the city puts forward.
“We intend to control our own fate. We will not have a plan dictated to us by the Department of Education, by City Hall,” said CEC President Joe Fiordaliso. “The Department of Education can either stand with us in support of overcrowding relief and efforts to desegregate our schools or not. I certainly hope they chose to stand with us.”
Members are calling for: moving P.S. 452 to give the co-located school room to grow, a larger zone for P.S. 191 to ensure it doesn’t wind up under-enrolled, and the rezoning of schools in Harlem after the DOE’s announcement, reported by Chalkbeat on Monday, that P.S. 241 will possibly be merged with P.S. 76.
In what promises to be a controversial stance, the CEC is sticking with city recommendations to rezone some buildings in the Lincoln Towers community from high-performing P.S. 199 to P.S. 191 — two schools that are separated not only by state test scores but also racial and socioeconomic lines.
“We know many people are going to be very unhappy and we don’t relish that,” said Kim Watkins, chair of the CEC zoning committee. “We empathize with every single family not getting what they want. But for the district moving forward, I really believe the time for this bold plan is now.”
Fiordaliso also said he hopes the council can leverage the rezoning process to call for a moratorium on charter school co-locations.
“Let them go to other districts. We’re drawing the line in District 3. No more,” he said.
District 3 has been locked in a rezoning battle for more than a year. The city already tabled one previous proposal amid community backlash last year. CEC members expected the city to present a final draft of their current plans at a meeting on Wednesday. A spokeswoman for the City Department of Education said that’s not the case.
“We value the CEC’s leadership and partnership, and will continue to solicit feedback, host meetings and engage in robust conversations as we work to submit a final proposal that best serves all of the students and families in District 3,” spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in an email.
New York City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who represents much of the district, came out in support of the CEC’s proposal. She said it represents exactly what Fariña has called for when it comes to school integration: an “organic” solution developed by the community.
“I think what the CEC represents is the larger Upper West Side community, so their job is to see the bigger picture and I think that’s exactly what they’ve done,” she said.
Here are some highlights of the CEC’s proposal:
Much of the controversy has swirled around parents who would be rezoned to P.S. 191, a school that scores below the district average on state tests and where more than 70 percent of students live in poverty. The school, which has made gains under a relatively new principal, is slated to move into a brand new building with room for almost 700 students in 2017.
The CEC is calling for a larger zone to be drawn around the school to make sure it doesn’t end up under-enrolled. An additional building from the Lincoln Towers, 205 West End Avenue, would be added to the zone.
The council also wants a name change to help fight the stigma P.S. 191 gained after briefly (and, the council argues, incorrectly) being labeled “persistently dangerous.”
Parents currently zoned for P.S. 199 have hosted rallies and protested at community meetings against proposals that would make P.S. 191 their zoned school instead.
But the CEC, in its own plan, is largely sticking with the city’s proposed zones around P.S. 199, where fewer than 10 percent of students are poor. Under the CEC’s recommendation, the Lincoln Towers community would remain split among P.S. 199 and P.S. 191.
To relieve overcrowding at the much sought-after school, the council is also asking for a commitment to limit the number of kindergarten classes to five.
Another element of the CEC’s proposal that is sure to cause controversy: The council is recommending that P.S. 452 move about 16 blocks, into the building being vacated by P.S. 191. The CEC is “uncomfortable” with the prospect of starting an untested school in the old building, according to the proposal.
“We strongly believe that an already successful school with an excellent reputation and respected leadership makes it significantly more likely that District 3 will have a highly successful school,” the letter states.
In the meantime, the CEC wants the city to provide temporary busing to make the move easier for families.
Long term, the council’s plan calls for a middle school to open up in the space vacated by P.S. 452’s move.
Perhaps the biggest departure from city plans surround the CEC’s proposal to include schools in the northern end of the district in the current rezoning process. As they stand, the city’s rezoning plans only address schools south of 110th Street, leaving out schools near Morningside Park.
Chalkbeat reported on Monday that the DOE is proposing to merge one school in the area: P.S. 241 the STEM Institute of Manhattan would fold into P.S. 76, about eight blocks away.
Given the possible consolidation, the CEC plan calls for the current P.S. 241 zone to be split among three schools: P.S.180 to the west, P.S. 76 to the north, and P.S. 185 to the east. Fiordaliso said that would make it easier for families to get to their neighborhood schools.
“It comes down to distance,” he said. “If we have other schools closer, we felt it was responsible and appropriate to split that zone.”
The CEC also calls for the city to engage with schools in the north to come up with special programming and other ways to boost enrollment and academics.
You can read the CEC’s full proposal here.
This article was first published on Chalkbeat New York on October 18.