Rezone offense

Parents and teachers at PS 97 on Stillwell Avenue say the city’s plan to shrink their school’s zoning footprint will send their kids to a school that’s too far from home.

“My 3-year-old is five minutes from PS 97 right now but if we get re-zoned, she’ll have a 30-minute walk to school,” said Yuki Mu, a parent whose child is currently zoned for PS 97, which is between Avenue S and Highlawn Avenue. “It’s unfair.”

The city’s proposal would not affect students already enrolled in PS 97, but it would send incoming kindergartners living along W. Seventh Street between Kings Highway and Avenue T to PS 215, which is about 12 blocks.

Worse, only kindergartners, first graders, and second graders living there will be eligible for school bus service, but they lose that benefit once they reach the third grade when they’ll have to live at least a mile away from school to qualify for bus service.

“Many of my students get taken to school by their grandparents, so how can we ask 70- and 80-year-old people to travel twice as far as they are used to,” said Frank Modena, a PS 97 teacher. “We have to consider the health of these people.”

Those opposed to the rezoning are also concerned about the children crossing busy intersections, including McDonald Avenue, in their trek to PS 215 on Avenue S.

“Eight-year-old kids should not have to cross a dangerous street like McDonald Avenue and travel such a long distance,” said Assemblyman William Colton (D-Bensonhurst), who added that he received a petition against the rezoning signed by 500 people. “The rezoning defies the interests of the community and should be rejected.”

The measure is so controversial that District 21’s Community Education Council postponed its scheduled Dec. 16 vote on the PS 97 rezoning until early January. But council members declined to flat-out reject the rezoning because it may prevent PS 97 from becoming overcrowded. The school is currently over-utilized, but the rezoning would decrease the amount of students by 150 kids over the course of three years, according to city statistics.

“If we don’t rezone, the principal may not have room for incoming students,” said Department of Education spokesman Michael Nolan. “And if that happens, new students could end up being bused to a school outside their district, making their trip to school even farther than it would be under the rezoning.”

But many actually dispute the city’s notion that PS 97 is overcrowded.

“PS 97 is a well-running school that is not overcrowded at all,” said Tim Law, a Community Education Council member opposed the rezoning.

PS 97 Principal Kristine Mustillo could not be reached for comment, but other area principals have complained that the city is underestimating their potential student capacity. The principal at PS 101, Greg Korrol, said that the city’s proposal to decrease his school’s zoning area is misguided because he has enough rooms to accommodate his 840 students. And a 2008 St. Francis College survey of city principals found that half the respondents thought that the Department of Education’s data about their schools’ enrollment capacities is inaccurate.

PS 101’s rezoning is also in limbo, as it is tied into the same proposal for which the council postponed its vote.