Boundary issues: City plans to cut Dumbo, Vinegar Hill out of PS 8 school zone

Middle march! PS 8 to add MS to its offerings
The Brooklyn Paper / Michael Short

The city has blindsided families at a Vinegar Hill elementary school with a plan to dramatically increase the area it serves next year in order to reduce over-crowding at a nearby school in Brooklyn Heights, say parents who claim they were never consulted on the proposal and now aren’t being given enough time to look it over.

“We have not been involved in the process whatsoever,” said one mother of a student at Vinegar Hill’s PS 307 — who refused to give her name — at a meeting announcing the city’s provisional plan to re-zone the borders of PS 8 on Tuesday night. “Our community has not been engaged.”

Parents and teachers at PS 8 have for years demanded that the city do something about the school’s bloated student body. The educational institution currently serves youngsters from the booming neighborhoods of Brooklyn Heights, Dumbo, Vinegar Hill, and parts of Downtown and the Navy Yard. It has 703 elementary-level students enrolled this year, but only capacity for 488, according to a city report.

The education department wants to fix the problem by shrinking the school’s borders and sending future students from Dumbo, Vinegar Hill, and a small part of Downtown and the Navy Yard to PS 307, which currently serves kids from part of the Farrugut Houses as well as some outside students who attend its science-focused magnet program. The school currently has 423 students, but it has room for 776.

The new zones would even the burden of new students out between both schools, education department officials said. Last year, 167 students applied for kindergarten in PS 8, versus 17 for PS 307. Under the proposed rezoning, 102 of those would have been zoned for PS 8 and 77 for PS 307, they said.

The new boundaries will also change the composition of the schools — 95 percent of the kids currently attending PS 307 are minorities, which would likely drop to 55–65 percent under the new zones, according to the city’s projections. But PS 8 could get even whiter, according to the forecast — 34 percent of current students are minorities, and the new boundaries could push that portion as low as 25 percent, officials said.

Mapping it out: The city is proposing to redraw the school zones for PS 8 and PS 307, so future students in Dumbo and Vinegar Hill will attend the latter.
Photo by Louise Wateridge

Residents will have until Sept. 30 to examine the plan and offer feedback before the community education council votes yea or nay. The PS 307 parents say they aren’t necessarily opposed to the scheme, but say a month isn’t enough time for them to examine how the changes will affect their school.

“This kind of all happened over the summer, and I would say the majority of parents and the community of 307 don’t know what’s going on,” said Clifford Dodd who has a kid at PS 307. “I would say that this September date is kind of unfair.”

City officials said they already cleared the plan with the PS 307’s interim principal, but parents said that was little comfort, as she only took the post in July.

“She cannot possibly speak for a community that hasn’t even met her yet,” said one parent who refused to give their name.

The new zones may ease the burden on PS 8 for now, but it is a band-aid solution at best. New housing developments are rising rapidly along the waterfront and throughout Downtown, and the city and community will eventually have to come up with a more permanent solution to accommodate all those incoming kiddies, said local pols.

“We all know this is one scenario and it’s not going to address our ongoing needs for school space, which is a much bigger issue,” said Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D–Downtown). “This is a big issue we are all going to have to tackle.”

Weighing in: Councilman Steve Levin (D–Brooklyn Heights) gives his two cents on the school rezoning.
Photo by Louise Wateridge

Reach reporter Harry MacCormack at hmaccormac[email protected]local.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow him on Twitter @HMacBKPaper.