CSB 27 Moves To Plan B
By Howard Schwach
Community School District 27 has backed off its controversial plan to keep the students who live in the Redfern Houses in their present schools rather than placing them in the new Public School 253, a school only two blocks from their home.
The new plan, called "Plan 2" by district officer personnel, was unveiled at a sometimes-contentious meeting that was held last Monday night at PS 105 in Arverne.
Under Plan 2, all of the students who live in the sprawling Redfern complex will attend the new school when it opens in 2004.
While the meeting was called by the school board’s Zoning Committee," the majority of the presentation was done by the school district’s Operations Manager, Sandy Brawer and by district Superintendent Matt Bromme.
Brawer told the 125 parents and activists present at the meeting that the district had three goals in its rezoning plan: to create a school zone for the new PS 253, to equalize the school zones that presently exist and to plan for the new housing that is being developed all over the peninsula.
The last goal, according to Brawer, is the most difficult to achieve.
"There is lots of construction going on," Brawer said. "But we don’t know where it is going to be, we don’t know where the kids are coming from, we don’t know if they are Rockaway kids moving from another part of the peninsula or if they are coming from outside. We just don’t know how many kids are actually coming."
"What we do know," the operations manager added, "is that we want every student, particularly in the elementary schools, to live within a half-mile of the school they attend."
The contention that kids should go to "neighborhood schools" that are only a half-mile or less from their homes may turn out to be the most contentious issue of all when the rezoning plan is finally presented for a vote some time in March of 2003.
When PS 225, on Beach 110 Street, was built a number of years ago, the then Board of Education decided that it would not be an integrated school if it drew students from its zone.
For that reason, the children who live in the Ocean Village Houses on Beach 69 Street were zoned for PS 225 rather than for their neighborhood schools, PS 105 and PS 42.
Plan 2 calls for those students to return to their natural neighborhood schools.
"Those kids lose too much time on the bus each day," Brawer argued during his presentation. "They are often late because the buses are late. They would be much better off in their neighborhood schools."
A number of parents and parent activists argued against the proposed move, saying that the walk from Ocean Village to either of the other schools would be a dangerous one and that their inclusion into those two struggling schools would mean a reduction of services to the students who already attend.
"We don’t want to discriminate against anybody, but we want assurances that we’ll still get the services we now have at PS 105," the school’s PA president said. "Those are the services that helped us get off the SURR list and those are the services we want to keep."
Brawer pointed out that, while PS 225 is at 105 percent of utilization, the other two schools, PS 42 (65 percent) and PS 105 (60 percent) are presently underutilized.
Both of the middle schools in that area, MS 198 (40 percent) and MS 180 (45 percent) are underutilized as well.
Under the plan, PS 105 would take back its fifth grade from MS 198 as part of the plan. At that point, all of the elementary schools within Rockaway would become Kindergarten to Fifth Grade, with the exception of PS 225 and PS 114, which have opted to remain as Kindergarten to Sixth Grade schools.
School Board 27 member Ernest Brown was not sure that placing the Ocean Village children at PS 42 would be a good idea.
"We have to look carefully before we can say that this school can take these kids and that school can take those kids," Brown said. "We don’t know what’s coming and we shouldn’t move until we do."
A concerned parent, who asked not to be identified, said that moving the Ocean Village children to other schools in Arverne would become a gang problem.
"There have been lots of gang problems, lots of fights between OV and Edgemere," she said. "We just bring them into the schools by putting the kids in the same school."
The other contentious portion of the meeting dealt with PS 114, at the extreme west end of the peninsula.
There are no plans to rezone PS 114 under Plan 2.
That fact angered many of the minority parents in the audience.
"We should cut down on the overcrowding at PS 114 by moving the zone for that school from Beach 122 Street to Beach 129 Street," one parent said.
"Those parents don’t care how crowded that school is, as long as their kids are isolated from the other kids in Rockaway," another angry parent said.
Ed Williams, the head of the local chapter of the NAACP, said that the board has to address the safety issues before it plans to move the Ocean Village kids to the other schools.
He added that it had to address the racial balance in all of the peninsula’s schools as well.
"Let’s be real," he said. "PS 114 has no African-American children."
Bromme assured the parents that any child who presently attends a school will be allowed to remain in that school "until the school’s terminal grade."
There will be two other meetings prior to a final decision of the plan.