A controversial rezoning plan that would have alleviated the longest kindergarten waiting list in the city—and sent students zoned for PS 199, one of the highest performing schools in NYC, to PS 191, a nearby school with less impressive test scores and a highly-contested "persistently dangerous" classification—has been tabled by the Department of Education.
"I'm extremely disappointed by DOE's decision," said Joe Fiordaliso, president of local Community Education Council 13. "DOE did not get the precise zone map it wanted, so it took its ball and went home."
Subject to a vote by the CEC, the tabled plan would have shaved eleven square blocks off of 199's zone as early as next school year. A portion of those blocks would rezone incoming kindergarten families to PS 452 on 77th Street—a school demographically similar to PS 199. The rest would go to PS 191, which would form a shared district with a new school, PS 342, slated for completion in 2018.
Recent CEC amendments to the plan—rejected by the DOE—included cutting new high-rise apartment buildings out of the proposed 199 zone until more seats are added to that school. Similar to an ongoing rezoning battle in Downtown Brooklyn, steady market-rate and luxury development in the neighborhood has exacerbated crowding in the higher-performing school.
It's also reinforced segregation along racial and socioeconomic lines.
PS 199 currently serves 67% white students, and scored 72% proficient on state English tests in 2014. The school has one of the most powerful and profitable PTAs in the city, recently bringing in $50,000 at its annual walkathon—money that goes towards music composition classes with the New York Philharmonic and alternative healthy lunch menus from an independent chef, among other perks.
PS 191 is 88% black or Hispanic, and scored 10% proficient in English last year. Its PTA recently hosted its first bake sale, the proceeds of which, they hope, will go towards a school library.
"Families don't want to gamble with their kids," said PS 199 PTA President Andrea Steinkamp last month. "And when you look online and see that a school is ranked persistently dangerous and only 10% of its students passing exams, that's a big risk." Steinkamp admitted that, in her experience, the "persistently dangerous" label was unfounded (some parents and administrators have hashed it up to faulty data collection during a transition year between principals). Still, "The school has a perception issue, and perception is reality."
Under the No Child Left Behind act, no student is required to attend a persistently dangerous school. PS 191 would be able to drop the designation by August 2016 at the earliest—not soon enough for some skeptical parents of incoming kindergarteners.
Still, the DOE's decision to table the idea of a rezone altogether has upset many PS 199 parents. "It is obviously very disappointing that the DOE has given up and left us without any plan to address the overcrowding at PS 199," said the PTA in a statement. "Many parents, the CEC, and members of the community at large have been working very hard in difficult public meetings to develop a solution and this announcement is very frustrating."
At PS 191, parents were split on the issue. Some argued that an influx of PS 199 students and parents would invigorate the PTA, while others expressed concern that the rezone would shake up a school community that has primarily served the NYCHA-run Amsterdam Houses for generations.
The DOE issued a statement on its decision to drop the plan, stressing that more time is needed to come up with a solution.
"At this point, we have been unable to reach consensus on the best course of action and believe more time is needed to work with the community to develop a long term plan for this area," said department spokeswoman Devora Kay. "As such, the DOE will not present a plan at this time but will continue to partner with the CEC and elected officials to continue engaging the community around solutions."
Kaye added that the DOE will provide "programmatic supports" to PS 191 in the coming school year. She told the NY Times that waitlisted PS 199 students will likely be offered spots at neighboring PS 452 in the coming year.
"The decision did not come as a surprise," said PS 191 PTA President Kajsa Reaves this morning. "Our PTA has never been dependent on this plan, so we have been moving along." Most recently, the PS 191 PTA set up a GoFundMe page for the library. "We have started getting very few donations so far," said Reaves. "But it's a start."