Volume 3, Number 13 | The Weekly Newspaper of Chelsea | January 2 - 15, 2009
Volume 3, Number 13 | The Weekly Newspaper of Chelsea | January 2 - 15, 2009
Chelsea Now photo by Jefferson Siegel
Students at PS 33 could be absorbing 250 more seats as part of PS 11’s possible relocation to the school.
West Side school seats play game of musical chairs
By Heather Murray
Tamara Rowe has both a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader attending the Clinton School for Writers and Artists on W. 21st St. , so she considers herself pretty much in the loop regarding school happenings. But imagine her surprise when Rowe—former PTA president of the school and the current co-president of the District 2 Presidents’ Council—found out the day after a November meeting that the Department of Education had announced plans to relocate the Clinton School from its current home inside PS 11 to another neighboring public school.
She soon discovered that those plans—to consolidate seats from PS 11 at PS 33, aka Chelsea Prep, on Ninth Ave. near W. 26th St. —were far from set in stone. Clinton School Principal Jeanne-Marie Fraino hadn’t told the school community about the DOE’s plans before the November District 2 Community Education Council meeting, because she felt the proposal simply didn’t meet the school’s needs, Rowe explained.
“There’s been a lot of backpedaling by the DOE since then,” Rowe said. “They misstated that as something that was going to happen.”
CEC District 2 vice president Michael Markowitz said that at the council’s subsequent December meeting, the DOE revised its plan to say that the move was under consideration, but not definite. DOE spokesperson Will Havemann said that as of last week, the Clinton School/Chelsea Prep proposal is “a possibility, and no more than that.”
The original plans that Marty Barr, DOE executive director of student enrollment, spoke about at the November meeting included moving the Clinton School to PS 33 to provide overflow space for students from the crowded West Village schools PS 3 and 41. The Village students would move into the newly opened space at PS 11, located in Chelsea between Eighth and Ninth Aves., with the approximately 250 Clinton School students relocating to PS 11.
Clinton School PTA co-president Shino Tanikawa said she wouldn’t mind moving next year “if we can get everything we want,” and explained that Clinton School students need dedicated art, music and drama rooms. The Clinton School has an art room, but shares it with another class, and drama courses are held in the gym or a hallway. The Clinton School also currently has its own gym, but a move to PS 33 would mean that students would be forced to share their gym time with elementary school students, Tanikawa noted.
“The smarter thing for the DOE to have done would have been to come to the Clinton community first rather than announce it at a CEC meeting,” Tanikawa said. “It creates so much confusion.”
Tanikawa added that she feels the Clinton School community does want to move out of PS 11 eventually, to expand the school’s capacity. The Clinton School currently has three sixth-grade classes, two seventh-grade, three eighth-grade and one special-education. “The school wants to become bigger to house four classes per grade plus one contained (special ed),” she noted.
Additionally, the way the DOE calculates school-space utilization is “highly flawed,” she said. Until this year, the Clinton School was categorized as an underutilized school, even though some classes last year had 33 or 35 kids enrolled, “way above what the class sizes should be,” said Tanikawa, the mother of an eighth-grader at the Clinton School and a first-grader at PS 3 in the West Village . She has seen a marked difference in class size between last year’s combined kindergarten/first-grade class at PS 3 and this year’s, which increased by four students.
Markowitz is the parent of two students attending first and third grade at PS 41 in the West Village , and he said he knows all too well that his kids’ school cannot sustain the number of kindergarteners it’s been assigned in recent years.
“We’ll graduate three sections of fifth-graders, and five or six sections of kindergartners will come in,” he said. “We’re sacrificing classrooms.”
Markowitz added that parents from PS 3 and 41 want to know what the process will be for registering students for kindergarten by zone at these schools in the coming months to find out who will end up at PS 11 or elsewhere. He called on the DOE to make its plans public, noting that the department’s recently released capital plan provides “too little, too late.”
“The real problem isn’t the current economic crisis,” Markowitz said. “They simply don’t do the underlying planning.”
He asked that the DOE “in very broad terms come clean early with a list of schools likely to be overcrowded this fall based on best guesses today. By January or February,” he continued, the department should “define the process an overcrowded parent should take. One of the things they do wrong is only think about planning for a new seat once a kid is out on the street, outside the school. They don’t gear planning toward apartment units under construction.”
Leonie Haimson, executive director of the advocacy organization Class Size Matters, pointed to the acute overcrowding situation currently facing the West Side .
“There is an ongoing crisis in school overcrowding and it’s particularly severe in District 2, because that’s where the school population is growing,” she said, noting that the capital plan fails to “either deal with increased school population in the future or meet the existing need.”
Haimson said that, according to state legislation passed in 2007, the DOE was required to lower class sizes to an average of 20 students in kindergarten through third grade, as well as 23 students in grades 4 through 12, within five years. She added that there is an existing need for 3,000 new elementary and middle school seats, and a projected need for approximately 6,300 more in the coming years as result of new development.
Barr said at the November meeting that the long-term solution for the area is a new school slated to be built at the Foundling Hospital , one of two the DOE plans to open in the Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen area in the fall of 2015. The new school, at Sixth Ave. and 17th St. , will add an estimated 563 seats to District 2’s capacity.
The opportunity to create the new school came at the beginning of the year when the Foundling Hospital , run by the Sisters of Charity, decided to sell the 20-year-old building in order to build a new pediatric center in Yonkers .
The Rudin Organization, a partner in the planned St. Vincent’s Hospital redevelopment, proposed to the School Construction Authority that the authority become a 60 percent condo owner and build a school throughout the first six floors. The school would share the building with the hospital, which would retain ownership of floors seven through 14 and occupy them as its administrative headquarters.
The Foundling school was first announced to be an elementary school, but the DOE’s 2010-14 capital plan released in November states it will actually be a PS/IS school.
Markowitz still had questions about expected classroom size at the Foundling school, how many classrooms would be built and how many grades it will actually house.
The capital plan includes 3,046 new school seats for District 2 with six new schools being built, but two of those schools are listed without locations.
The larger of the two un-sited schools, called “Project # 4,” will be built as a PS/IS with 738 seats in the Chelsea/Midtown West area, even though Lower Manhattanites had previously hoped that the school would be sited farther Downtown.
Markowitz said still more school space needs to be allotted in District 2 beyond the Foundling School , adding that the plan to develop Pier 57 should include a middle school.
The western rail yard portion of the Hudson Yards project includes plans for an approximately 800-seat PS/.S school, as well, but that school likely won’t be built for the next several years and would do little to alleviate current conditions. The western yards alone will include eight residential and condo buildings, and developers announced recently that the eastern yards will have roughly 1,700 units.
Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen residents have seen no new school seats added to their neighborhoods since 2000, even though they’ve had more new dwelling units added over the past eight years than any neighborhood in Manhattan , according to borough president Scott Stringer’s “Crowded Out” report released in April. That report estimated that the areas within Community Boards 4 and 5 combined will soon add 1,750 to 2,478 new students.
The Department of Education plans to add 110 seats in the next five years to Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen at the expanded PS 51 at 520 W. 45th St. , which will hold 389 students when completed in 2012.
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