Upper West Side School Rezoning Proposal Riles Parents, Property Owners

A battle brewing on the Upper West Side is pitting parents and property owners against the Department of Education. 

A controversial draft proposal to redraw the school zones around the very popular but overcrowded P.S. 199 on the Upper West Side is dividing the entire neighborhood. The plan would send future students to a poorer performing school farther away. 

"It'll take thousands, maybe a hundred thousand dollars off the value of my apartment," said Roland Riopelle, who lives in one of the two Lincoln Tower buildings that would no longer be zoned for the the highly sought-after, award-winning -- and overcrowded -- P.S. 199. 

Paul Richards added, "We moved here basically for that school, and that school is kind of like our right. You got a school 100 yards away from your front door, you should have your kids going to that school."

In this neighborhood, not all schools are created equal. If the plan passes, future kindergartners would be moved to P.S. 191 in the zone next door, which includes the Amsterdam Housing projects. 

At P.S. 199, 87 percent of students are meeting state math standards, compared with just 10 percent at P.S. 191. The most recent safety data shows P.S. 199 had two assaults with injuries, compared with P.S. 191, which had 24 and was once labeled a persistently dangerous school by the state. 

And there are racial disparities: P.S. 199 is 15 percent black and Hispanic, compared with 84 percent at P.S. 191.

City school officials say the zones need to be integrated. 

"There becomes a perception in the community that one is the 'good school' and one is the school for students of lower socioeconomic status. It's not a good thing for the community, and it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle," said Elizabeth Rose, deputy chancellor of the Department of Education.

The community is meeting Wednesday night to review a draft proposal that would move a section of the Amsterdam Houses into the P.S. 199 zone to achieve more diversity. 

Residents at Amsterdam Houses had mixed feelings about splitting up their housing complex. 

"Why can't we just upgrade the schools and make them better? The teachers a little more competent in the schools, instead of moving the kids around?" said Kitoria Washington. 

"Everybody's white, you're black, so you're feeling kinda awkward in the school," she added. 

But Aaron Brown thinks it could be a great opportunity for his young stepson, LJ.

"If you take kids that are less fortunate and put them in a fortunate environment, good things can happen," he said.

Near P.S. 199, residents said they don't mind children from the projects joining their school. But they say after pouring decades of hard work and bake sales into improving their local school, why should they be forced to leave while the proposal would allow brand-new luxury apartments to stay? 

"What we now have is a zoning proposal that feels very arbitrary," said Linda Rosenthal. 

Rose responded, "We are getting and listening to all of the parent feedback and all of it is really important."

"We need to serve all students in the district, whether they arrived this year or whether they've lived in the district for 10 years," she said. 

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