P.S. 8 and P.S. 307 School Rezoning Meeting Turns Into Gentrification Debate

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    A heavily attended town hall meeting Wednesday about the proposed rezoning of P.S. 8 and P.S. 307 turned into an airing of general grievances in regards to gentrification. The meeting, held in the auditorium of P.S. 307, was attended predominantly by concerned parents from the two affected elementary schools, simultaneously representing two halves of a contrasting Brooklyn.

    Brooklyn Heights’ P.S. 8 is overcrowded, and its student body is more than 50 percent white. The school’s zone, which includes Dumbo, is one of the largest in Brooklyn — perhaps a holdover from when Dumbo was not very residential. Vinegar Hill’s P.S. 307, which has one of the city’s smallest zones, has room to grow and services mainly black families, including from the Farragut Houses housing project across the street.

    Intended as an informational session, the meeting was led by three officials from the Department of Education’s Office of District Planning, the Community Education Council of District 13, and the parent teacher association of P.S. 307.

    A presentation by the suited DOE officials gave attendees an overview of the rezoning process, a rationale for this particular rezoning, and projected zone enrollment and demographic changes. The purpose of the rezoning is to alleviate overcrowding at P.S. 8, they said.

    The proposal calls for P.S. 8 to decrease in size and 307 to increase; both schools are expected to have a lower percentage of minorities after the rezoning. For P.S. 8, this means going from a current 34 percent minority student body to a projected 25 to 35 percent minority student body. For P.S. 307, this means going from a current 95 percent minority student body to a projected 55 to 65 percent minority student body.

    If enacted, the rezoning proposal will shrink P.S. 8’s zone boundaries and extend P.S. 307’s for a more equal division of the neighborhood. Currently pending approval by the CEC, proposed changes would be enacted for the 2016-2017 school year. Changes would affect only incoming pre-K, kindergarten, and new students.

    Following the presentation, a question and answer session became heated, some parents remaining more levelheaded than others, and most expressing a larger dissatisfaction with the schooling system as a whole.

    “You don’t have a lot of institutions in America where a majority white people want to function under black leadership,” Reverend Dr. Mark Taylor of nearby Church of the Open Door at 201 Gold Street asserted to thunderous applause. “All of our white brothers and sisters aren’t going to come down to the Farragut Houses and sing kumbaya.”

    Such racial tensions were a theme of the night. Multiple commenters mentioned Brown vs. Board of Education, the segregation of New York’s schools, and the racial aspects of gentrification in the neighborhood.

    Reverand Taylor called the rezoning proposal, “a P.S. 8 centric plan that leaves out 307.”

    Shared concerns among commenters were the rapid implementation of the change and a perceived lack of sufficient notice given to zoned families in both school districts. As well, there was a shared frustration with the rapid development of luxury housing without an improvement in or construction of more local schools.

    “You have space in those high rises — put students in ’em,” one P.S. 307 parent called out.

    By the end of the meeting, it was clear parents felt they had not been involved in the process, that the rezoning should be delayed by at least a year, and that change and gentrification cause deep frustration and fear of the future.

    Parents simultaneously declared a need for new schools while acknowledging their awareness that adequate spaces are available at institutions like P.S. 307. In this way, there was comprehension of the larger situation — Brooklyn’s current state of rapid change — yet no answers as to how to achieve what’s best for individuals and their respective communities.

    “Ten years from now people will remember this decision that we make,” said Community Education Council member Horace Allison, “We’ve got to get all the communities moving in the same direction.”

    There will be other another meeting regarding the rezoning at P.S. 8 this coming Monday, September 21, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

    Photos by Hannah Frishberg

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