Controversial Vinegar Hill school rezoning gets passing grade

Tonight: Have your say on PS 8, PS 307 school rezoning
Photo by Jason Speakman

The city will to go ahead with a controversial plan to expand a Vinegar Hill elementary school zone next year to include students from Dumbo, after a panel of public school parents voted Tuesday to approve the scheme.

Members of the local community education council voted 6-3 in favor, despite objections from families in both neighborhoods that the education department is rushing in without considering what will happen when it pushes a bunch of wealthy white kids into a school that serves mostly minority students — concerns “yes” voters said were motivated by fear, not what’s best for the kids.

“When our kids go to school, they’re not thinking about whether or not Johnny or Shaniqua has two different color skins, they’re thinking about learning and playing,” said panel member Vascilla Caldeira, whose kids attend PS 20 in Fort Greene. “We have the issue, we need to let go and actually let our children grow in this environment.”

The decision comes at the end of four months of heated city-wide debate over school segregation sparked by the department’s abrupt announcement in September that it wants to expand Vinegar Hill’s under-capacity PS 307 — which has until now only served kids from part of the Farrugat public houses and others who come in via a magnet program — as a way to combat chronic overcrowding at popular PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights, where Dumbo youngsters are currently assigned.

PS 307 families immediately slammed the scheme, saying the city concocted it with only tony PS 8’s needs in mind, and that a sudden influx of kiddies from the borough’s wealthiest neighborhood could push them out of a school the tight-knit community has worked hard to turn into a haven for local kids.

“I’m tired of better things being brought into the community and community members being denied those better things,” said Farrugut Houses native Debra Stuart.

Parents of soon-to-be Dumbo scholars say they were also blindsided by the announcement — which would place their kids in a school that earns far lower test scores than the high-achieving PS 8.

“The DOE did not even attempt to engage with the Dumbo community,” said local Doreen Gallo, reading a statement on behalf of many parents from the neighborhood.

Many critics on both side say they don’t object to the rezoning in the long-run, just making such a big change on such a short time frame.

“I don’t see an urgency,” said panel member and PS 307 parent Benjamin Greene, one of three who voted against the plan. “I think this proposal needs work on it.”

The city had already pushed back Tuesday’s vote by two months for that very reason, resulting in a concession that it will set aside 50 percent of the seats in each class to low-income kids — but only if pupils in the new zone don’t take them first, which critics say will not do enough to keep the school diverse given how many more wealthy kids live in the booming area.

“I know that number is way too low,” said Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Fort Greene), who supports the rezoning but wants the seat quota bumped up to 60–65 percent.

But with so much media attention focused on the rezoning and Tuesday’s vote, proponents argued it was better to move forward now and iron out the issues in the future, rather than spend another school year bickering.

“We have what it takes to move boldly forward into the uncharted territory of bringing our distinct communities together to support great schools for all children,” said panel president David Goldsmith. “Voting ‘yes’ doesn’t mean that we are blind to the fact that we have very big work to do.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511.
Border force: The new borders of the PS 8 and PS 307 school zones.
Department of Education