CITY DROPS PLAN TO REZONE UWS SCHOOLS; ANGRY PARENTS SAY THEY’RE IN A ‘CRISIS’

parent cec3
Parent Kannan Mohan speaks at Thursday’s rezoning meeting.

By Jessica Brockington

The Department of Education walked away from PS 191 and 199 rezoning discussions with Community Education Council District 3 this week. Citing an inability to reach consensus on short and long term plans for the southern part of the UWS, the DOE will effectively leave PS 199 “dangerously” overcrowded again in the 2016/17 school year.

At a meeting of CEC3 (the UWS version of a school board) on Thursday night, Sarah Tuchin from the DOE’s Office of Planning confirmed that she would not be giving a final presentation on rezoning.

“We feel this is an appropriate time to step back,” she explained. “The weeds on the lines were taking away from the larger discussion. We are committed to continuing this work and continuing to engage this community. So many ideas have come to the table.”

Tuchin promised that the DOE would continue to meet with parents and school administrators as well as the council to find solutions to the larger, long-ranging zoning issues which include increasing diversity and decreasing overcrowding. “We didn’t want to derail the longer term conversation.”

Joseph A. Fiordaliso, president of the council, summed up the frustration of the members and parents gathered, where the expectation had been to hear DOE’s final presentation, a culmination of many months of collaboration.

“What are we going to do? We’ve got a crisis and an unsafe condition at one of our schools from an overcrowding aspect,” he said, referring to PS 199 where a target student population of 642 exceeded 900 students this year. “And we’ve been meeting for months. We’ve been in big meetings, small meetings, countless meetings, all taking away time from our kids, home, soccer practice. What are more meetings going to accomplish? If we put up a plan – it might pass, it might not. But I wonder if we are not missing an opportunity by not putting up a plan.”

A fire drill at PS 199 in October underscored the need for action on the part of the Department of Education. Children in the upper levels of the school were reported to have taken as long as 20 minutes to leave the building due to bottlenecked stairways and fire escapes.

The two neighboring schools under discussion, one predominantly under-performing and minority, the other overcrowded and white, highlight what school advocates call a systematic segregation of NYC schools.

The DOE says it is committed to working with PS 191 on its programmatic needs. And to address the overcrowding at PS 199 it is reaching out to Pre-K programs hoping to encourage parents to select other available schools as their second choices. PS 452, currently under capacity, is in a good position to absorb some of the 100 or so students living in the PS 199 zone who are expected to be waitlisted in 2016/17. [Other students will be placed at PS 191.]

“We will be working with families to fill out their applications. By encouraging them to list PS 452 as a 2nd choice we are thinking they will want to stay, versus giving it to them,” Tuchin explained. The online application process for kindergarten selection called “Kindergarten Connect” (http://schools.nyc.gov/choicesenrollment/elementary/kindergarten) will begin on December 7 and continue to January 15, 2016.

Fiordaliso asked Tuchin whether the DOE would support what he called “the six common sense items” to ameliorate the waitlist at PS 199 passed by the council overwhelmingly at their last meeting on Monday night:

  1. Revoking the right of return to PS 199

DOE response: No. The right of return is part of the Chancellor’s regulations. We cannot revoke the right of return to their zoned schools if a family elects a waitlisted school for a year.

  1. Placing a cap on the number of kindergarten classes at PS 199 to five.

DOE: No. They had capacity for six this year and they will have capacity for six next year too.

  1. Alternative offers should be made by August 1st to every family that has been waitlisted for a school. [Many offers will be made throughout the Spring, but last year there were families who had not had a final offer until September 1.]

DOE: Yes. The DOE will make offers as early as possible.

  1. Preserve sibling status.

DOE: Yes. Any rezoning implemented would retain a sibling’s right to attend school with the other children in his/her family.

  1. No new residential construction will be zoned for PS 199 – there is a 50-story building that will come online in the next 6 years that will literally cast a shadow on the school.
    DOE: No. Our zoning does not differentiate between old and new buildings. We do not differentiate between shelters and people in homes, renters and owners.

    6. Move 191 into the new Riverside Center, and move PS 342 into the current PS 191.
    DOE: Yes. We are open to that and will continue the conversation about that.

Fiordaliso additionally pressed, “In the absence of zoning changes for 2016, and with the DOE’s rejection of the measures passed by the CEC the other night, what is the DOE’s plan to mitigate the 60-70 siblings [eligible to attend PS 199] and the 100 waitlisted. It’s an absolute carbon copy of what we had this year. Absent a rezoning, would the DOE commit in writing to maintain a cap on class size of 25 in kindergarten, 32 for upper grades, pursuant to UFT contract limits, and cap at six kindergarten classes? Will it commit to putting these measures in writing?”

Tuchin said “Yes. I commit to putting this in writing for the district.”

During the Public Comments, parents and parent advocates expressed their disappointment and dismay at what they called a “lack of resilience” and inability to compromise on the part of the DOE.

Marcy Drogin, a parent at PS 87 and a member of the Community Affairs Committee, expressed her disappointment in the DOE’s decision “to do nothing, as opposed to bringing a proposal to the council, a compromise, and a short term solution to alleviate the crowding at 199. To say you’ll do nothing is unacceptable. There’s been a lot of pressure on DOE from parents currently in the school for you to do nothing.”

She said she was disheartened that DOE failed to “bite the tough bullet to make tough solutions.”

“PS 199 is overcrowded by 250 kids. You know what happened during that fire drill. You’re going to wait for buildings to come online to look at rezoning? How is that planning six years in advance?” She criticized DOE for coming “without a short term solution or recommendations” and for disagreeing with the council’s recommendations “when it’s the council’s purview to do rezoning.”

Liz Sutherland, a parent and member of PS 199’s School Leadership Team, said she felt “disrespected by this outcome. We’ve committed a lot of time and energy, giving up all these hours from work and family.” She dismissed the idea that PS 199 could stretch to accommodate 6 kindergarten sections. “We have no space. We don’t have space.”

Eric Shuffler, another parent at PS 199, pointed out that the problem at 199 is getting worse. “We have two new buildings, another one coming on and at the end of the day DOE walked away. We teach our kids resilience. It’s a core value. What are we teaching when parents are willing to put in the hours and DOE walks away?”

Ujju Aggarwal, an advocate for District 3 Task Force on Equity in Education, and representative of the Parent Leadership Project, called on District 3 to adopt “Community-Controlled Choice” to end what a UCLA study called “intensely segregated” and unequal schools. [Learn more about this at www.D3equity.org]

Nan Mead, First Vice President of CEC3, invited advocates of Community-Controlled Choice to participate in CEC3’s Diversity Committee. She noted that she had resisted muddying the waters on the issues facing PS 199, 191 and 342 by raising the challenges facing the schools at the northern end of the district. She cited inequity of programming, resources, least experienced teachers being placed in the highest need schools, high immigrant populations, children in shelters, as some of the issues facing other schools in the district.

After the meeting, Kim Watkins, Chair of the Zoning Committee for CEC3 said that on November 30, the Monday after Thanksgiving, the council will resume it’s work on rezoning. “We are undeterred to reestablish this work. We’re hoping the DOE will be there and we’ll be participating again together.”

She added that families with Pre-K children in the PS 199 zone should get as familiar as possible with Kindergarten Connect. She welcomed people to the November 30 meeting. It will be held at 6:30 in the Joan of Arc Complex, 154 West 93rd Street, Room 204.

NEWS, SCHOOLS | 38 comments | permalink
    1. anon says:

      Can someone explain to me what the issue is with new building and why PS 199 parents would want them excluded from the zone? I understand they potentially mean more students registering for K but if they cap it at 6 K classes there will be no additional overcrowding. The student is equally as crowded if the kids live in Lincoln Towers or a new 50 story glass high rise.

      • J says:

        Anon,

        I think there’s a sense among us people already living in the zone that we don’t want new construction to further decrease our chances of getting our children admitted into 199.

        The city should find a new school for new construction. The city’s persistent failure to do this is the root to the 199 overcrowding.

        • anon says:

          I understand wanting to keep others out to have a better chance for your own child but this just doesn’t make sense in public school. The public schools exist for the public — new buildings and old. The overcrowding at PS 199 existed before the children who will start K in 2016 were born. None of them have any more right to the school than others. This proposal that the DOE correctly reject seems to be based on ensuring the property values of Lincoln Towers.

          • J says:

            For most of us, it’s not about property values. It’s about feeling that 199 is our community school and the city is letting new developers take it from our children.

            And our children have no place safe to go.

            • anon says:

              How does keeping out the kids who live in a new building next door make it more of a community school?

            • J says:

              Anon,

              You ask “How does keeping out the kids who live in a new building next door make it more of a community school?”

              The community currently feels evicted from 199 by the new developers who built an entirely new neighborhood near 199 without the city requiring them to build new schools. Yet the city lets the residents of these new buildings flood 199 to the point where there isn’t enough room for half of the applicants. This feels like eviction; it erodes the sense of community and pits neighbor against neighbor.

              It’s bad policy that lets existing community be displaced from their school by new development. Keeping the school for it’s current community would strengthen the sense of connection between school and community.

            • anon says:

              J, are you referring to the Trump buildings on Riverside Blvd? The ones in the199 zone have been there for years, longer than any 199 student has been alive and longer than the overcrowding has existed. They’ve always been part of those kids’ neighborhoods. The proposal PS 199 floated, that the DOE rejected, would have kept those schools in the PS 199 zone. If there is another “entirely new neighborhood” that you are referring to where is it?

              Regardless of which buildings you want cut our of the zone, where do you propose these children go to school? You say “our children have no safe place to go” but you seem willing to send other children where you wouldn’t send your own.

            • J says:

              Anon,

              I’m not suggesting that any buildings in particular be cut out of the 199 zone. What I’m suggesting is CEC3 is right in requesting that future, currently unbuilt, buildings not be added into the 199 zone.

              As to the Trump Place buildings, this is an “entirely new” neighborhood, by which I mean when it was built relatively recently, it created thousands of entirely new homes adding an entirely new population to our school zone.

              I’m simply noting the problem: the city is to blame for not seeing to it that a school was built for this new population, and as a result the rest of the community has been displaced from school.

              You ask “where do you propose these [Trump Place] children go to school? You say ‘our children have no safe place to go’ but you seem willing to send other children where you wouldn’t send your own.” No, anon, I wouldn’t want to send any children to 191.

              So where do I propose these Trump Place children go to school? I don’t have an answer because the city has no place for most of them, or for most of the rest of us, to go.

    2. Sherman says:

      I’m the parent of a PS 199 child and I’m very happy with the school.

      However, it is obviously overcrowded and will continue to get worse.

      Perhaps the best way to handle this is to draw kids to PS 191 by making that school more of a magnet school.

      I’ve read some proposals that make sense, such as offering Chinese language classes and advanced math and computer labs.

      If PS 191 offers stuff PS 199 lacks parents might soon be fighting to get their kids into PS 191.

    3. dannyboy says:

      Well played CEC3! I guess the CEC wishes everyone else the best of luck in their circumstances.

      The CECsters, themselves, are all set.

    4. J says:

      What is the Riverside Center?
      Where is it located.

      Specifically, the article says:

      [CEC3 proposed the following] 6. Move 191 into the new Riverside Center, and move PS 342 into the current PS 191.

      DOE: Yes. We are open to that and will continue the conversation about that.

      Can anyone tell me what this would accomplish? I’m asking sincerely, not rhetorically.

    5. Olivia says:

      What a completely inept set of idiots we have working on this. After all that, the DOE says … they don’t have a plan. HOW CAN THERE NOT BE A PLAN.

      What would happen IF the original plan proposed was accepted?? Would people scream and yell for ever and ever? Would they write letters, petitions, build websites, leave the area? Probably.

      But after all that, what else would happen? Would they storm the school? Unlikely. Would they pull their kids out of school entirely? Also not probable – they’d move or send them to a private school. Would they sue? They would lose. No one has the “right” to PS 199.

      So, knowing all of this, WHY CANT THE DOE JUST MOVE FORWARD FOR GODS SAKE. Make a decision, tell the people, live with the hysteria that follows, move on to the next problem….

      • J says:

        Olivia,

        You seem to be saying that any decision is better than no decision. Do you really think a bad decision (one that makes things worse) is better than no decision?

        You ask “What would happen IF the original plan proposed was accepted??” If you mean the proposal combining 199 and 191, the answer probably is 199 would tank and 191 would still be a bad school, though less bad than it is currently.

        So, perhaps the DOE’s failure to act was not so unwise though, to be quite honest, I don’t know. But I applaud the DOE for thinking before they destroy 199, and I condemn the DOE for their ineptitude.

        Mostly I blame the city for not building schools for the new neighborhoods created by Trump and his cohorts.

    6. Tom says:

      We had friends this year that sold their apartment and moved downtown because they couldn’t get into 199 (which is why they bought years earlier) and forced to go to 191. This has turned into a total sh*t show and it’s unbelievable after all this the DOE just gave up.

    7. Scott says:

      Liberal hypocrites who vote for people like De Blasio but yank their kids out of any racially mixed classroom, take a bow.

      • J says:

        I wish De Blasio were to blame, but alas it was Bloomberg and Giuliani who set the stage for this debacle.

        And it’s not about race. It’s about good schools.

    8. Proposal to ease overcrwoding at PS 199 says:

      I have a great idea that would immediately help to ease the overcrowding at PS 199. How about any 199 parent who knows of families that don’t live in the 199 zone telling the school and the DOE. Specifically I mean people that have their children in the school that never ever lived in the 199 zone. If the PS 199 PTA came forward with the names of the people that cheated to get in the school, the school would have 25-50 less students. The same 199 parents that scream how dangerously overcrowded their school is, how the fire drill went terribly wrong, should stop their hypocrisy and come forward with the names of the families whose children got into the school illegally. Once the PS 199 PTA and other leaders do this, then they will have some moral high ground.

      A parent I know of a 2nd grader at PS 199 says his son’s playdates are anywhere from 50th to 100th. Let the 199 parents come forward with these cheaters before they try to exclude people that actually live in the zone.

      • anon says:

        it isn’t that easy to prove people aren’t “in zone”. the rule is only that a child lived in the zone on the first day they enrolled. You can move out of zone the second day of kindergarten and continue until you finish 5th grade. It’s a good rule intended to allow children living in shelters or shuttled from one relative or foster home to another to have some continuity in their school. The only way to catch the cheaters is to do home visits before K starts.

      • Sam says:

        Absolutely! Except that the individuals at the top (legal, enrollment) do NOT support the efforts. It’s a very bad joke.

    9. Thank you DOE says:

      Thank you to the DOE for rejecting the biased proposals of the CEC that would exclude 199 zoned children from attending their zoned school.

      The CEC3 president’s daughter attends 199. Every CEC proposal was for the benefit of the current 199 families at the exclusion of the zoned 199 families who do not yet have children at the school.

      Thank you to the DOE for rejecting the CEC proposals to protect 199 at the expense of the rest of district 3. The CEC proposals would have created overcrowding at PS 87 and 9.

      • J says:

        Dear “Thank you DOE”,

        Which CEC3 proposals are you referring to?
        I don’t understand your take on all this.
        How did CEC3’s proposals put the remainder of District 3 at risk?

        • Thank you DOE says:

          J,

          I meant these two proposals. This would limit the number of people allowed into 199. I know the school has an overcrowding problem, but if you limit the amount of zoned children they will try to attend the other s=good schools in the district, thus creating overcrowding from 86th south.

          PS 199 has six cluster rooms, 191 doesn’t even have a library or an art room. Available space could be subjective. The DOE is aware 199 can have 6 k classes and they did the right thing. Also the right of return is in the Chancellor’s regulations and 199 isn’t above the law when other NYC overcrowded schools respect the right of return.

          Revoking the right of return to PS 199
          DOE response: No. The right of return is part of the Chancellor’s regulations. We cannot revoke the right of return to their zoned schools if a family elects a waitlisted school for a year.
          Placing a cap on the number of kindergarten classes at PS 199 to five.
          DOE: No. They had capacity for six this year and they will have capacity for six next year too.

    10. GJ says:

      Why not require the developer of the Lincoln Square Synagogue property to provide space in the new building for an annex for PS 199?

    11. Brandon says:

      Where did the 25 or so kids who never made it off the 199 waitlist this year end up? If it’s PS 452 or 87 they might stay but further than that I’d expect them to want to go to 199 for 1st grade.

    12. Upper West Dad says:

      Why not just combine the 199 and 191 schools into 1 school under 199 administration (since they seem to be doing a great job)? Would solve so many physical plant / space issues including reducing racial segregation and mixing socio-economic groups (which has been proven to help the academic performance of poorer students). Everyone wins, the community comes together and connections flourish. Love thy neighbor!

    13. William says:

      There is no doubt about it, the UWS has many new residential buildings in recent years and we are overcrowded. Undoubtedly, there are more parents and more children and the children cannot get into schools which are already over crowded. Does anyone ever think that we need more schools build on the UWS and not so many new residential buildings???? Oh NO, building more schools would mean less money in the pockets of the residential builders. Unbelievable !!!!

      • dannyboy says:

        There are schools that are underutilized available for our neighborhood children. The problem is that many parents only want to send their child to the school with the best reputation and did not improve another school for children.

        Kinda like greed. It causes trouble.

        • William says:

          I totally agree with you regarding the underutilized schools. However, the UWS is becoming way too crowded. Everywhere you look, there is a new residential building going up and is does not stop. We cannot accommodate them in more ways than schools.

          • J says:

            We parents do not want to send our kids to the best schools. We just want to send our kids to good, safe schools. PS 191 is neither good nor safe.

            That is half the problem.

            The other half of the problem is noted by William: the city failed build a school for the hundreds of new units in the Trump Place vicinity.

            • dannyboy says:

              CEC3 has been providing convienient scapegoats for the problem that is THEIR RESPONSIBILITY.

              Go ahead and blame the City for not building more schools. Or blame the DOE for “Zoning Problems”.

              How about some constructive support aimed at improving the underutilized schools? Or is it easier to hold on to scapegoats and blame the bad school?

            • J says:

              Dannyboy,

              When I note that 191 is a bad school, I’m not blaming 191. I’m blaming the people who are in charge of fixing it.

              And yes, I’m blaming the city for failing to build a school for the new Trump Place neighborhood. The city should do it now. Better late than never.

              What is the best short term solution? I don’t know.

              But I do feel that rezoning new kids to 191 will fail. It failed in the 70’s and it would fail again… unless something different and special is done.
              What?
              I don’t know.