Stuck in the middle: Parents won’t OK PS 307 rezoning without MS plan

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

The city must postpone its controversial plan to expand a Vinegar Hill elementary school zone to bring in more kids from neighboring ’hoods unless it can provide a solid plan for relocating a middle school currently sharing the campus, say several members of a local panel tasked with approving the scheme.

“Until we have a detailed, concrete, specific plan … I cannot vote ‘yes’ for the rezoning,” said Rob Underwood, a member of the 10-person local school district council, which will soon vote on the education department’s proposal to expand the area served by PS 307 in Vinegar Hill, which currently shares its York Street property with MS 313.

The education department announced last month that it wants to reduce overcrowding at Brooklyn Heights elementary school PS 8 by redrawing local school zone borders to redirect future students from Dumbo and parts of Downtown and the Navy Yard to the Vinegar Hill school, which is under-capacity, starting next year.

Neighborhood residents promptly slammed the plan, which they say the city concocted too hastily and without consideration for how an influx of wealthy, white kids will affect PS 307, which currently serves kids from the Farragut public housing buildings as well as some outside students who attend its science-focused magnet program.

But at a public meeting on the plan last Wednesday, Underwood and fellow board member Maggie Spillane said the department is also rushing thoughtlessly into a separate but related plan to relocate MS 313, which has about 100 students, to a new 300-seat middle school dubbed IS 611 slated to open next year in a tower developer Two Trees Management recently erected on Dock Street in Dumbo (a project that has caused plenty of controversy in its own right).

Underwood says the city is yet to provide families or council members with any concrete details of its plan for the new school.

“611 is to open in 11 months and yet there has been no work we’ve seen to develop its programming, its mission, its vision, or its admission,” said Underwood, whose kids attend PS 282 in Park Slope. “I do think there is some merit in the PS 8 and PS 307 rezoning, but it’s inextricably linked to the IS 611 plan.”

Underwood says the city originally told the panel two years ago that IS 611 would be a completely new school with new resources serving kids from around the district — though that plan has long been short on detail.

Department officials did not mention the middle school at all in earlier rezoning presentations, and have now told panel members that they simply plan on moving the Vinegar Hill middle school and giving it a new name, said Underwood and Spillane — which they say is too vague and does nothing to address what they claim is a serious dearth of good middle schools in the region.

“It is an important piece of continuity for our elementary schools and it seems to me that the Dock Street building has become an afterthought, and that’s not acceptable,” said Spillane, whose offspring attend PS 9 in Prospect Heights.

Many at Wednesday’s meeting said they were hearing about the middle-school move for the first time and now they want more details, too.

“I just learned tonight Farragut is losing a middle school,” said Rev. Dr. Mark V.C. Taylor, who pastors the Church of the Open Door near the Farragut Houses and PS 307 and has been an outspoken opponent of the rezoning. “We need to have time to assess and address that.”

Wednesday’s meeting marked the Department of Education’s official presentation of the rezoning plan to the local community education council. The next step is for the district’s superintendent to officially hand over the plan to the panel, at which point it will have 45 days to vote for or against it — although the vote must happen by mid-November,

The city will host a separate meeting about the middle school relocation at PS 307 on Nov. 2.

The Department of Education did not return requests for comment by press time.

Preach: Rev. Dr. Mark V.C. Taylor, pastor at the Church of the Open Door near PS 307, spoke fervantly against the rezoning.
Photo by Jason Speakman