Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's Not Just Bryant and the NE; It's the Other NE

Well, it looks like over-enrolled popular schools and reference area zone problems are not just Seattle problems; they are Manhattan's problems. An article about this issue appeared in last Friday's NY Times. From the article:

"Of all the draws of 200 Chambers Street, a luxury TriBeCa condo with floor-to-ceiling windows and a swimming pool, Sherry Hsiung was particularly attracted by Public School 234, the celebrated elementary school next door.

But when Dr. Hsiung, a dermatologist, tried to register her son for kindergarten last month, she was shocked to hear that because of a surge in applications, he would be placed on a hold list, and could not be guaranteed a seat. Instead, he could be assigned to an elementary school elsewhere in District 2, which stretches to the Upper East Side. “I’m totally at a loss,” she said. “This is a public school.”

Parents consider it a sacred tenet of city life: If you move into a good elementary school’s zone, your children can go to the school. But Lower Manhattan’s population has experienced a post-Sept. 11 baby and building boom, and the highly regarded schools in the neighborhood — P.S. 234 and P.S. 89, in Battery Park City — are faced with a glut of children and nowhere to put them."

Sound familiar?

It continues:

"But they said overcrowding might not be solved just by building new schools, and that in the coming months they would explore whether school zone boundaries in several neighborhoods should be adjusted — including large chunks of Manhattan that fall into Districts 2 and 3; District 10 in the Bronx, which includes Norwood, Riverdale and Fordham; and District 15 in Brooklyn, covering Park Slope and Sunset Park. As early as next week the department is expected to unveil a proposal to relieve overcrowding in District 2.

Rezoning, though, is so politically toxic that one education official referred to it as a “third rail.” And downtown, parents are already fuming.

“The whole thing has been a bitter introduction to the public school system,” said Catherine Park, whose daughter Ali is on the P.S. 89 hold list."

I like that phrase "politically toxic" because it will aptly describe the feelings when we do finally get around to rezoning (or re-referencing as the case may be).

"Many schools are under-used, but they are often considered undesirable. And rezoning school boundaries involves lengthy public hearings, and could generate a significant outcry, particularly in higher-income neighborhoods."

During closures, I think we heard from significant numbers of people - from all income brackets - about their schools. What I heard more - privately - were ill-disguised threats from parents who took pains to let us know they were lawyers.

In a 114-page report to be issued on Friday, William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller, derided the school system’s capital planning process as “broken,” concluding, “There are far too many neighborhoods with overcrowded schools and no hope of relief for at least several more years.”

I'm not sure I'd call our capital planning process "broken" but there is certainly a lot wrong with it. And it has fallen to schools to solve the problems not dealt with by the district in advance.

One main difference between here and Manhattan is that, according to the article, many parents came strolling into the enrollment office thinking that their address gave them a place in their closest school. At least here we have "on-time" enrollment that makes it clear that you need to be in that first batch to even have a chance.

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