2002-12-14 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

It happens all the time. People get up at meetings and say something that they do not want to say or that is different from what they planned to say.

When they are quoted in The Wave, they often write to say that they were misquoted, but they are wrong.

Speak to somebody extemporaneously and then repeat exactly what you said. You will not be able to do it, because you do not hear what you are saying.

What brings this up is Ed Williams, who wears dual hats as the President of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and as the community liaison for Congressman Greg Meeks.

Both of those jobs require that Williams have an agenda on issues involving race and both require that he remain something of a moderate.

I am not sure what Williams had in mind when he got up to speak at a public meeting called by Community School Board 27 to address the rezoning of Rockaway. I would have to be a mind reader to know what he wanted to say.

Both my memory and my notes, however record accurately what he did say.

Speaking about the racial balance found in Rockaway schools in general and in PS 114 in Belle Harbor specifically, Williams said, "Let’s be real. PS 114 has no African-American children."

That is what he said. I heard it. I wrote it down. Any time he would like to see my notes from the meeting, he is welcome to give me a call and to do so.

I am sure, however, that is not what he meant to say.

He sent us a letter right after the paper came out. In that letter, which ran in last week’s Wave, Williams said that he was misquoted, that he knows that 6.7 percent of the students at PS 114 are African-American.

"What I did say," Williams said in his letter, was that "it would be interesting for this community to know what the ethnic breakdown is in relation to the non-zoning of PS 114 and the comparison to PS 225, 42 and 105 school districts."

I am sure that is what Williams wanted to say and even what he wished that he had said. It was not, however, what he said at the meeting.

Williams’ statement was in response to the fact that the school board was proposing to rezone PS 225 so that it would no longer take the students from Ocean Village, on Beach 59 Street. Those students would go back to their neighborhood schools, PS 105 and PS 42, under the new plan.

There are some, probably Williams included, who think that this is a racial plot to leave PS 225 as a "White" school, but that is far from the truth, despite the fact that many of the PS 225 parents have been lobbying for the change for years.

When PS 225 was first built a number of years ago, the normal zoning area for the school would have made it predominantly White. The City’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) would have none of that and it ordered something that ordinarily would have been illegal even under the rules way back then.

The OCR ordered students from Ocean Village to jump over both the PS 42 and the PS 105 zone to attend PS 225. The goal was racial balance and there was little argument from the then school board.

Now, however, PS 225 is grossly overcrowded and sits in an area that is no longer predominantly White. Even if the students from Ocean Village were removed from the school, it would still be a minority school.

While PS 225 is overcrowded (105 percent of utilization), both PS 105 (60 percent of utilization) and PS 42 (65 percent of utilization) have lots of room.

Moving the students would also have a salutatory effect on their lives. They would go to a neighborhood school, would not have to ride a bus for an hour each day and would be in school with their friends who live nearby.

Despite what some people are trying to make of the move, the students would not be moving from a superior school to two inferior schools. In fact, the schools are roughly comparable to each other, especially after the hard work of PS 105’s principal, Lori Shapiro and her staff in getting the school off the State’s SURR List.

Granted, there are safety issues that need to be resolved, but those issues exist at virtually every school on the peninsula.

A number of parents were angered that PS 114 was not up for rezoning. The school, which is overcrowded at present, is isolated at the far west end of the peninsula. The zone cannot move westward, because it already runs to the water. It would make no sense to move the zone eastward to Beach 116 Street (except in economic terms) as some have asked in the past, because that would make the school even more overcrowded.

To move the eastern end of the zone to Beach 129 Street from Beach 122 Street (as one person at the meeting suggested) would take kids from PS 114 and send them to PS 225, which is already overcrowded (unless the Ocean Village kids are removed). What that would do in terms of property values to those who live between Beach 122 and Beach 129 is a story for another column.

One parent at the meeting even said that the parents at PS 114 don’t care how many kids there are in the school, as long as they are isolated from the other kids in Rockaway. That is probably true, but so what?

I believe in neighborhood schools. If the neighborhoods are racially unbalanced, so will the schools they serve. That is a fact of life, one that we have to live with.

If you really want to solve the problem, integrate the neighborhoods.

The time for racial engineering is over.

The school board is doing a good job with this most recent rezoning plan. It should be applauded by residents and parents alike, and it should be adopted and put into effect.

I know that people such as Ed Williams, with their racial agendas, will not like it very much.

That is also part of life. We should accept his involvement and move on to do what is right for kids.

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