Manhattan's Upper West Side has perhaps the highest concentration of influential news media types in the country. For the last 48 hours, they've engaged in an orgy of self-congratulation over electing Obama. But, now it's time to get back to what they, personally, are most concerned over: keeping their kids away from Non-Asian Minority kids. From the New York Times:
As Schools Grapple With Crowding, Prospect of Rezoning Angers Manhattan Parents By JENNIFER MEDINAIt's not like Mr. Shuffler and his friends are prejudiced or anything. I mean, they'd love to have Obama's daughters go to P.S. 199.
At Public School 199 in the heart of the Upper West Side, a music teacher who once had her own classroom now keeps her instruments in a small closet, stacking cymbals and drums onto a cart as she visits more than two dozen classes each week. Students who need tutoring in reading or math sit behind a makeshift wall of metal cabinets in the hallway. There are seven kindergarten classes this year, up from three in 2000.
And on a recent Friday afternoon, it took six staff members 15 minutes to find a room for a training workshop. P.S. 199 has 663 students in kindergarten through fifth grade this year, nearly 200 above its capacity in the West 70th Street building it has long shared with the Center School, a middle school that draws students from the Lincoln Center area north to Harlem. Public School 191, just nine blocks south, draws largely from the nearby housing projects and has more than 107 empty seats available.
It might seem that there are easy solutions to the overcrowding in District 3, which encompasses the Upper West Side and parts of Harlem. The district has neighborhoods facing a burgeoning school-age population, in part because of a high-rise building boom, with pockets where the number of children are in decline. Why not send some of P.S. 199â€™s overflow to fill the seats at P.S. 191, or move the Center School and let the popular P.S. 199 expand to take up the whole three-story building?
But in New York City, where real estate and access to good schools often lead to Olympics-level competition, even the specter of changing school boundaries can raise the hackles of parents who chose their high-priced homes precisely because of those boundaries. The topic of rezoning is so sensitive that education officials have referred to it as the â€?third railâ€? â€” and no one seems to remember the last time a significant boundary change was enacted.
For months now, officials and members of District 3â€™s Community Education Council, the elected board that must approve any rezoning plans, have gone back and forth on painstaking negotiations and proposals. At a meeting on Wednesday night, the council is expected to introduce its resolution, which members would vote on later this month.
The heated debate dividing neighbors is likely to repeat itself across town later this month, when city education officials begin discussing the rezoning of parts of District 2, which encompasses the Upper East Side and much of Lower Manhattan. District 2 is plagued by some of the cityâ€™s worst overcrowding, particularly in TriBeCa and on the Upper East Side.
In the debate over the fate of P.S. 199 and the Center School, there have been accusations of racism, and a flier calling one school administrator who opposed a move a dictator. Parents â€” and prospective parents â€” of P.S. 199 have set up an elaborate campaign against changing the school boundaries, using the Internet and old-fashioned petitions on clipboards to protest.
â€?You move to a neighborhood in no small part because you are attracted to the school â€” itâ€™s a core decision you are making,â€? said Eric Shuffler, who is among the parents of 4-year-olds fighting for kindergarten spots in 2009 at P.S. 199. â€?Something that you had planned on is now being taken and itâ€™s compounded by the fact that you donâ€™t know what happens to your children once the decision is made.â€?