Rezoning District 15, CEC meeting report

Close to 200 parents and neighbors crowded the PS 38 auditorium last night to hear proposed zoning changes to schools in Park Slope/District 15. Carrie Marlin, Director of Planning for the DoE, gave the presentation to present the proposed changes. The DoE is putting the presentation on their website later today for review for parents who were not able to attend.

Jim Devor, CEC (Community Education Council) President, explained that these discussions began almost 2 years ago around the collaboration between District 13 and District 15 to build a new and larger building in Gowanus to house PS 133. That building will be habitable in fall of 2013 and will become a “school of choice” for both districts. When the students assigned to the new construction vacate the small St. Thomas Aquinas building at 8th St. and 4th Ave. it will be available to District 15. Over time the conversation shifted to rezoning talks for the center and south slope for District 15 as it became clear that capacity issues at PS 107 and PS 321, two strong an popular programs in Park Slope, had reached a critical point.

The drastic zoning changes to PS 321, 39, 107 and 10 that were presented to the schools this summer have been modified. The plan reduces enrollment at 321 and 107 and while it adjusts the zones of 39 and 10 - enrollment at those two schools would remain the same. The shift in the 39 zone is required to keep enrollment the same because the new school building lies within the zone. PS 10 has historically been able to take a percentage of their population from outside of zone. They will gain a larger zone and in future take fewer outside of zone families. These changes, if approved, will take effect for the 2013/14 school year. A small portion of the southwestern end of 321 and the western end of 39 are reassigned to a new school that will serve 275-335 students in the St. Thomas Aquinas building. 2 blocks near the park between 4th and 5th St. (between 7th and PPW) will be transferred from 321 to 39 to keep enrollment level at 39. 107 will be losing 5 blocks on their western and southern sides to PS 10.

These changes would only impact incoming new students or kindergarteners. All currently enrolled students, may remain in the schools were they were previously zoned for. Siblings on the affected blocks will be grandfathered in and remain in the school that they were previously zoned for. Parents whose children are currently attending prek in the schools but would be rezoned, spoke passionately about their connection to the schools and communities and requested that consideration be made for those current students. It was presented that the new school on 4th Ave. and 8th St. would begin with K and 1st graders. For the first few years that school will be adding a grade each year and have empty classrooms until they reach capacity in 2017. It was mentioned that these classrooms might be utilized as prekindergarten classrooms for the neighborhood.

One parent eloquently illustrated how 321 and 39 would lose most if not all their diversity with these changes. Parents spoke about improving enforcement of out of zone families to reduce capacity at all grades. It was explained that it is a long standing city policy that as long as you are living in the zone when you attend at kindergarten and then move out of zone, that you are able to continue attending the school. The reason for this is to protect poor and homeless families who don’t own their homes and may have to move if rents are raised. The thinking is that they should not be penalized for being priced out of a neighborhood. There was enthusiastic applause whenever the idea of turning St. Thomas Aquinas into an Early Childhood Center was mentioned. Representatives from the offices of NYS Assembly Members, Joan Millman and Jim Brennan, spoke in favor of the ECC. Passionate opponents to the rezoning plan for years, Liz Phillips, Principal of PS 321, and Brad Lander, local City Council Person, who had previously been hopeful about the ECC plan, said that they were persuaded that the ECC model would not solve the problem in the long term. They both stated that they had recently come around to understand that this current plan may be the only lasting solution to the dire capacity issues. The main issue is that St. Thomas Aquinas is too small to open up the capacity needed in the two schools. It was acknowledged that all 4 current schools in question are stellar, progressive and high performing programs. A Vice Principal from 321 has been rumored to be a candidate for the new school to be opened in the St. Thomas Aquinas building.

Some parents were present to hear news of PS 133, which was minimal. It is being talked about as a “School of Choice” for both Districts 13 and 15, meaning that parents from both districts may apply. If there are more applicants than seats, a lottery will take place. The CEC is very concerned that the D15 seats in the 133 building will be a diverse socio economic group. There are long standing and dire over-capacity issues in Sunset Park that will not be resolved by this current rezoning and they are hopeful that 133 may help to relieve some of that pressure.

Now begins the 45 day review period. The CEC is holding a planning meeting tentatively scheduled for Nov. 7 at 6:30 at 131 Livingston St. Parents are welcome but they cannot participate at this meeting. If the final plan is approved by the CEC, it will come up for a vote at the PEP meeting in January.
Here is Contact information:
Community Superintendent: 718-935-4317, Subject: District 15 zoning, email: ASkop@schools.nyc.gov
Community Education Council: Subject: District 15 zoning, CEC15@schools.nyc.gov
Office of Portfolio Management: Subject: District 15 zoning, brooklynzoning@schools.nyc.gov