By Anthony Ferrara
City Council member Helen Rosenthal chided the Department of Education on Wednesday night for not explaining more about the reasoning behind its plans to rezone elementary schools on the Upper West Side. The city has floated three plans for rezoning the schools, to reduce overcrowding and add racial, ethnic and economic diversity, but they’ve been met with skepticism and anger by some parents.
“Everyone has been giving diversity lip service and that’s unacceptable to me,” Helen Rosenthal said. “They [the DOE officials] need to make the case that diversity is something that is worth getting, which of course we all believe, and why from an educational point of view,” she added. She said she is “not in support of any of these [rezoning] scenarios.”
State assembly member Linda Rosenthal also found fault in the DOE’s process. She chastised the DOE for zoning 165 and 185 West End Avenue for PS 191, instead of zoning it for PS 199 like the other Lincoln Towers buildings.
“Regarding the school that is to be ready for September 2017 [the new school on 61st and West End, slated to become the new home of PS 191], we know nothing about that school,” she said. “It’s another case of ‘Trust me’ “I’ve been saying this to the DOE since I got into office 10 years ago, the way you estimate who goes to what school is wrong. DOE, we don’t forget. I am livid, and I know everyone who has a hand in this process, so don’t think you can pull the wool over their eyes. They are too smart for that.”
Parents from Lincoln Towers and other higher-end buildings in the district are anxious about sending their children to PS 191, which educates many of the children from the Amsterdam Houses project. Its test scores are lower than the city average and it was designated “persistently dangerous,” though that designation has been overturned. PS 191 principal Lauren Keville spoke at the meeting asking parents to consider the school. “I urge you to actually come see our school and see the wonderful things that are happening for our kids. There are a lot of misconceptions, and I think it’s important that you actually come up to the school and talk to our parents and see the success that we were having.”
One parent who lives near 191 said in an interview that he wouldn’t send his kids there until “they graduate the bad eggs.”
DOE officials and school board (CEC3) members had little patience for the agitated crowd at times. CEC3 President Joe Fiordaliso even asked for “no criticism of the board.”
But when the third re-zoning map was finally unveiled, it was tough to hold back the criticism. Immediately, the crowd grumbled. The map on the screen “looks like something from Google maps,” a parent who wanted to be referred to as “W” said. Next, a voice from the audience yelled out, “Where are the street numbers?” which were absent from the handout. Board member DJ Sheppard said “Quiet! Next council member, please!”
Board member Noah Gotbaum said “This is all well and good, but where did you come up with the numbers for the redistricting of 165 & 185? Where are the dollars coming from? Which school is getting these dollars & how can you estimate your re-zoning budgets, when one of the buildings in the district hasn’t sold a single unit?”
“We’ll get back to you,” said Sarah Turchin, director of planning at the Department of Education.
“How does re-zoning 165 & 185 WEA relieve any problems with diversity, overpopulation, or money, when we are only talking about the movement of 5 or 6 children?” Linda Rosenthal asked. “Does that appeal to cries of diversity? How? The people of the Upper West Side are not stupid, and you should know they want the same data you are using!” This was met with raucous approval.
When parent Michael Ferrante left the meeting, and was asked why, he just said, “It’s just the same old stuff. I’m done & putting my kids in parochial school next year.”
Senator Brad Hoylman was next, berating the board, saying “You better have proof to back up your reasons for this. We need the data, and you are not giving us any to support your reasoning.” This was met with a round of applause as well.
The crowd had dwindled by the time the audience got to speak, but the speakers who remained continued to question the plans. “We moved from Harlem to 200 Riverside Blvd, in order to have access to PS 199, only to find out that his children were now slated for P.S. 191, which is less than one year removed from the most dangerous list?” said Ziv Arazi. “Why is that? What is your reasoning, do you know how many children are even in our building?”
As the crowd dispersed after the meeting, a father said “It looks like we’ve done a 360, we’re back to square one.”
Photos by Anthony Ferrara.
Correction: One of the quotes initially attributed to Helen Rosenthal was actually said by Linda Rosenthal. We’ve also corrected a section of Helen Rosenthal’s quote.