[Updated] Parents Frustrated By Bureaucracy At District 22 Rezoning Meeting Last Night

Screenshot courtesy NYC Department of Education
Screenshot courtesy NYC Department of Education. Read the full rezoning proposal here.

[Update 9/28 at 12:45pm: The NYC Department of Education’s Office of District Planning released the full proposal online for the rezoning of District 22 elementary schools. We’ll follow up with another article, but in the meantime read the proposal here.] 

Last night, the Community District Education Council 22 (CDEC22) held a public meeting about the proposed rezoning of six elementary schools in District 22. The rezoning will affect all elementary schools in District 22, which have all been affected by neighborhood growth — P.S. 139, P.S. 134, P.S. 217, P.S. 245, P.S.152, P.S. 315, plus the upcoming P.S. K338 at 510 Coney Island Avenue.

DOE representatives presented a proposal for District 22 rezoning, complete with research statistics and a new district map, which they projected onto a screen on the auditorium stage. Hard copies of the proposal were distributed to school officials, but were not given to the parents or press.

(Live feed from the PS 217 meeting by Ditmas Park Corner)

The proposal outline 

Tyeshia Smith, presenter from the Department Of Education Office of District Planning, grew up attending District 22 schools. She said the rezoning aims to create a new zone for K338, which is slated to open September 2017. Additional goals are alleviating overcrowding from elementary schools across the district due to population growth, and create more middle school seats in District 22, according to Smith.

“We started coming out to District 22 in December 2015, to ask the community what they wanted to see for K338 building. We pulled our own data and heard from the community.”

The middle school planned for the K338 building, which has 90 seats, will be a “choice middle school”. Pending approval, the new districting will take effect in the 2017-18 school year, but families who have a child already enrolled in a school can be grandfathered in for their currently enrolled students and younger siblings.

According to Smith, the DOE presented a draft of the map in June, after several preliminary drafts and meetings with district principles. This formal presentation was designed to give community members a forum for feedback before the proposal is submitted to the CEC for a vote, scheduled for early October. After the proposal is submitted to the CEC, members have a 45-day window to vote.

Screenshot submitted via Kate...

But many parents at last night’s meeting were blind sighted by the announcement, and audience members grew frustrated and angry at the dearth of information and transparency shown so far in the rezoning process.

“This map was never sent home!” shouted a distressed audience member. “We didn’t know!”

CDEC reps continuously interjected, assuring parents that the information-gathering and feedback process has been lengthy, and their voices matter every step of the way. “We did allow your voice to be heard and we continue to hear you,” said Superintendant Julia Bove, who was present at the meeting. “This conversation began last November, and this map was agreed upon by all principles involved.”

“Then why haven’t we heard about this?” shouted another parent from the audience, interrupting the presenters. He attributed the sparse attendance at last night’s meeting to the lack of circulated information.

Many parents and community members said they just learned about the rezoning proposal this week, some only this morning through word-of-mouth, fliers posted in the elevator at 181 Newkirk Avenue and DPC. The meeting announcement on the CDEC website was only posted on Monday morning, eight hours in advance of the evening meeting. [Update: Correction, the previous link is to the District 22 website, where the flier was also posted on September 13 as a courtesy to the CDEC. The Monday morning flier was a re-post.]

“I’m a journalist and a mother of a PS 217 student, but I couldn’t find any information online,” said commenter Solana during the Q & A following the DOE proposal.

Audience members expressed frustration that they couldn’t see the zoning map from the stage, and were never given a copy before the meeting. DOE reps said the proposal would be available publicly Tuesday, September 27.  “The issue is process. This is a public hearing, but the public can’t comment on a proposal that will be posted tomorrow,” said one commenter during the Q & A.

“How can we comment on a proposal that we haven’t seen?” one parent shouted out during the presentation, where the DOE representatives projected a re-zoning proposal map onto a screen that was fuzzy and hard to read. The projected map appeared to be the same as a draft distributed in June, but most parents in the audience hadn’t received it.

A steady line of commenters snaked around the auditorium stage, with parents from public schools 315, 139, 152, and overwhelmingly, 217. At least five speakers were from one building at 1818 Newkirk Avenue, a building housing PS 217 parent association members — some who moved there so their kids could attend the much-beloved public school.

But representatives stressed the importance of creating a balance of resources and opportunity for each school within District 22, and the rezoning was constructed with each school in mind, not just PS 217. “As a department we have to look at the bigger picture,” said Dorothy Crawford, president of the CDEC 22.

Threat to diversity

Some parents who spoke were convinced that rezoning would upset the delicate ecosystem of diversity thriving in District 22 schools, especially within a historically segregated NYC school system. The proposed rezoning would exclude buildings in the primarily African-American northern section of the district.

“The kids are so proud of this school, my son has friend of all different ethnicities,” said one parent. “In a school system overwrought with segregation, PS 217 is where you got it right. It’s the lifeblood of the community. Please don’t destroy our community and the committed parent support.”

“There is no denying that NYC schools are some of the most segregated school systems in the entire country,” said Tim Castanza of the DOE. “But we need to rethink the way we talk about diversity…What does a diverse school mean? If this rezoning process results in District 22 having these conversations, we’re better off for it.”

One conclusion drawn by both parents and administrators is that diversity in District 22 is not merely black and white. “There are residents in this community from all over the world, and this simple breakdown doesn’t represent us,” said a PS 217 parent.

Communication and transparency speedbumps

Others were appalled at the lack of transparency and communication in the approval process. How could officials expect to reach a community that is 40 percent ESL families, speaking nine core languages, in the short weeks from September 26 (the meeting date) to October 6 (the scheduled proposal submission date), said Hassan, a PS 217 parent.

“It’s a multi faceted situation,” said Hassan. “The logistics of these proposals are hard to translate into nine different languages. We don’t have enough time and manpower,” she said.

CDEC members countered that information was submitted to principals, PTA and parent groups in nine core languages, since last November — following the DOE protocol, said DOE rep Tim Castanza. In fact, this is the fourth or fifth version of the rezoning map, and the 12th meeting, said DOE reps.

There was a string of back-and-forth shouting between parents and Education Council reps, revealing that somewhere along the chain, DOE information wasn’t reaching community members ears. One parent said he had visited the office at PS 315 last week, where he was told that school administrators were completely ignorant of the entire rezoning plan. “We met with that principle [at PS 315] in June,” countered Crawford.

Two parents in the audience, who spoke during the Q & A, stated that there was a previous rezoning meeting that was attended by about 300 people, but the focus of that meeting was a petition to make the upcoming K338 into a middle school only.

Next steps

Commenters also questioned the data presented at the meeting, which cites that enrollment at PS 217 is climbing, despite parents who claimed that enrollment has actually dropped from around 1300 to close to 1100 in the past few years. Many parents were concerned about how the additional student drain would affect the school’s budget, which currently supports thriving arts programs and a vibrant, diverse student-base.

Parents demanded more time to educate the community on the rezoning and give everyone a chance to voice their concerns. Smith noted that if a decision isn’t made in time for the September 2017-18 school year, K338 will open as an unzoned “choice” elementary school in the District.

Responding to the apparent communication breakdown between DOE officials and the community, Community Board 14 Chairman Alvin Berk said that the CB 14 website would also list the proposal and scheduled meetings as soon as they are published.

Reps from the DOE and CEC urged community members to speak up now, before the meeting on October 6. “Feedback may issue a change in the proposal,” said Canstanza. “The protocol is to go to the principle first, then the CEC. Will, Taisha and I will look at this tomorrow, and if more time is needed we will delay the vote.”

[Updated] How to speak up:

Where to find information:

Attend the next District 22 rezoning meeting on Thursday, October 6 at 6pm, located at PS 197, 1599 East 22nd Street near Kings Highway. If you need a translator, please email the district office at least 48 hours in advance. 

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  1. Hi! I’m a parent of a not-yet-in-school kid and live in one of the buildings that is in the effected area. We were excited to be zoned for PS 217 because of the arts programming and true diversity, not to mention the proximity to the subway line we commute on. Would love to connect with other parents who are organizing around this issue. Please DM me on FB!

  2. Hi neighbors,
    Despite the DOE’s lack of transparency, as a District 22 parent, I support the re-zoning plan, including a new elementary school at 338. Re-zoning should benefit the entire community and not be dictated by self-interest among a few blocks of vocal home-owners/residents in the proposed re-zoned portions of PS217.

    Overcrowding is a real issue for our district’s elementary schools (it is not just about PS217’s situation!) and could be alleviated with a new elementary school at 338. Making 338 only a middle school, as some have proposed, has no benefit for the wider community. It is obvious that the idea would benefit only a relatively small number of families within zone 217 but would come at the expense of elementary school kids in every other zone in the neighborhood in the form of future overcrowding. We all want the best for our own children but we should never want it at the expense of our entire community. Making 338 only a middle school runs counter to the planning needs of our district, would forsake an opportunity to improve a number of our elementary schools and is motivated by self-interest among a tiny minority of the district’s families–it would benefit a few at the expense of the many.

    Remember this is a public school! The re-zoning plan should seek to have broadest, fairest possible positive impact. The re-zoning plan does a reasonable job at doing that so I support it.

  3. Hi all, just want to mention a couple of things — 1) the rezoning meeting at PS 139 last April was not intended to focus on the new school becoming exclusively a middle school. But there was tremendous support for the idea from the 300+ community members (who represented PS 139, 234, 152/315, and 217) who attended that meeting. 2) If you want to have your voice heard in the rezoning discussion, please attend the next meeting on October 6th. I believe it is scheduled for 6:30 pm at PS 197 on E 22nd near Avenue O. Thank you! –Beth (current 217 parent)

  4. Hi Ben, there are a few different issues here 1) whether the new 338 school should be a middle or elementary school and 2) the zone lines of the all the elementary schools in District 22. The latter is what many people spoke about on Monday night.

    The buildings on the east side of the 217 zone (dense buildings between Foster, Newkirk, east of East 16th) were just zoned into PS 217 zone 5 years ago, but now the DOE is looking to zone us back out of 217. Parents of these buildings contribute a lot of resources and time to the school and that benefits all the kids, and we’ve built a strong community within the school with all of our neighbors and fellow parents.

    So, everyone has their own opinion, but to me the issue is less about middle school/elementary school at 338 and more about dismantling an existing (successful, vibrantly diverse) school community and the process by which that is being done.

  5. The article says school officials were given copies of the proposal. I feel like a widely read, local press outlet like Ditmas Park Corner would have a good case to make to get in touch with the 217 principal — or officials at any of the other affected schools — and ask if they’d share their copies.

  6. Hi Ann, thanks for the reply. I’ve heard great things about PS 217 and its community. And I’ve heard about the frustrations with re-zonings and it sounds like the process has been very far from ideal. But it also sounds like the only solution put forward to your re-zoning issue is to make 338 only a middle school which might solve your re-zoning problem in your corner of the PS 217 zone but it would mean the whole district would lose out on a new elementary school and the district would also not be able to address the issue of future overcrowding, which is a very real problem and likely on the minds of parents with pre-school aged kids. Some things are not really a matter of opinion: making 338 only a middle school will subvert resources away from elementary school education and create overcrowding in the future. My opinion is that that is not a good for our kids and the future of our community. Of course, at the next meeting, it would be great to hear any alternate solutions to PS 217’s re-zoning issue that do not involve diverting investment from elementary education.

  7. I like to think that I am an engaged citizen. I go to CB14 meetings from time-to-time and receive email from them. I read DPC daily. I read the Brooklyn Daily Eagle every day (for what that is worth, north of Bay Ridge but south of Prospect Park). I get news from maybe 10 aggregater sites. I am not a parent, however. Still, it amazes me that the first time that I would learn about a process that began more than five months ago is the same day as a critical meeting held shortly before the beginning of the 45-day clock. Like the rezonings of PS 8 and PS 307 in northwest Brooklyn, it is clear that the Department of Education (DOE) has no clue how to engage the public on these critical issues. (Hint: There are books on the subject that you can read.) People inclined to believe in conspiracies can easily conclude that the DOE does this on purpose so it can just ram its changes through. The community education councils are an insular world as well and no better at community outreach.
    Speech over. The term is blind-sided, not blind-sighted, as in hit or attacked from the blind-side, on the edge of someone’s peripheral vision. The email address for cec22@schools.nyc.gov; note the typo above.

  8. I think it’s important to think about the future of schooling in our district, which will likely require that we go beyond self-interest. This seems like an effort by a few parents who will clearly be affected right now to back a plan that may benefit their children, but not the interests of future elementary-aged kids in District 22.

  9. The proposal/petition to make 338 a middle school only (rather than an elementary and middle school) seems like it’s being driven mostly by the interests of affected parents at 217, rather than what’s in the best interest of all other families in the district. The DOE plan makes it an elementary and middle school, which will apparently impact some families at 217, but seemingly addresses the broader needs of community. Are other families who aren’t at 217 not concerned about this? Perhaps DOE should reconsider the zoning, but surely we shouldn’t squander the opportunity for a new elementary school in the district based on this.

  10. I’m a renter in the neighborhood with no kids, so I don’t have any personal stake in this, but to me, it looks like the new lines are less gerrymandered than the old lines. I know that that doesn’t necessarily mean anything because of the rapid change in density and demographics from block to block, so there could be something nefarious about the new lines, but just looking at the map, that’s what stands out.

  11. “…not be dictated by self-interest among a few blocks of vocal home-owners/residents in the proposed re-zoned portions of PS217.”

    I don’t understand what the 338 issue has to do with diverting children from a totally diverse, multi-cultural, high functioning neighborhood school to now have to cross busy Ocean Avenue to attend a school outside their own neighborhood.

    And it’s easy to dismiss the valid concerns of others. Easy, but not fair.

  12. Hi Fred, their concerns are valid but their proposed solution (making 338 only a middle school, putting them back in the 217 zone) is not. Data shows pop. growth. One less elementary school in the plans would exacerbate overcrowding, strain resources and set up a situation of unsustainable utilization levels. And that’s not fair to thousands of kids at all the schools in this neighborhood. And that should not be dismissed.

    The onus is on those in the rezoned area to find a fair and responsible solution that does not negatively impact thousands of kids – one that does not involve closing a desperately needed elementary school before it even opens. If that solution involves redrawing the zoning lines in a way that makes sense for the neighborhood, I’m all for it.

  13. Agree. If the issue is the impact of the proposed zoning lines for some families at 217, then addressing that *narrowly* should be the focus of the proposals, not shuttering plans on a needed new elementary school for the district to prevent overcrowding.

  14. The plan presented does include an elementary school in the new building, presumably to reduce overcrowding in 217. If that is so, then what problem is the rezoning of the eastern end of the 217 zone supposed to be solving?

  15. The issue is that parents at 217 are petitioning to make the new school a middle school only (rather than an elementary and middle school, as planned by DOE in order to prevent overcrowding in elementary schools in the district). The proposal to make it a middle school only was presented at an earlier community meeting as a way to maintain current 217 zoning. Obviously their proposal will address the problem of 217 families affected by the rezoning, but it hurts families at all of the other schools in the district that face overcrowding due to inevitable population growth, and particularly the young families in our community who will bear the brunt of it. I completely understand why the 217 parents are fighting the rezoning, but a proposal that adversely affects everyone else is surely not good public policy.

  16. Maybe I’m missing something. How does the middle school only option maintain current 217 zoning? Wouldn’t be the other way around, e.g. add elementary school seats to the new school in order to reduce overcrowding and therefore enable the current 217 zone to be maintained? Doesn’t the current proposed plan include the elementary school seats, which should avoid the need for rezoning 217?

  17. No. No relation at all to DOE, etc. I was working so could not go to the last meeting (my son is not in school yet so out of the loop). As Fred pointed out above, I don’t have much insight or much at stake into how the zone lines were (re)drawn–I just want to make sure that they are drawn and that a new school is created. 217 and other parents should fight for what they think is fair zoning — as long as it preserves the new elementary school. I looked at the DOE’s proposal–and big picture–the data made me realize how essential a new elementary school will be for the neighborhood. From it, it looks like the neighborhood’s schools will have to absorb many hundreds more students than are currently being served. The new elementary would ease that significantly and help prevent some really overcrowded classrooms.

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