By Patrick Hedlund
Efforts to relieve overcrowding at a Chelsea elementary school have forced local students into a game of musical chairs as the city attempts to balance the needs of a handful of neighborhood schools.
The Department of Education recently proposed temporarily moving the Clinton School for Writers and Artists, a middle school that shares space with the PS 11 elementary school on W. 21 St., into the PS 33 elementary school on W. 26th St. to address overcrowding at the W. 21st St. building.
The decision aims to fulfill the department’s promise to relocate the Clinton School by the beginning of next school year, but advocates for the middle school say a temporary move doesn’t satisfy their need for a permanent site.
Twice this year, the DOE pledged to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and parents of both Chelsea schools that a new location for the Clinton School on E. 15th St. would be ready by for 2010-11 school year. But in a Sept. 28 letter to Quinn, the department hedged on the timing of the new middle school space.
Then, on Nov. 19, the DOE informed the Clinton School that it wants to temporarily relocate the middle school to PS 33 instead of the E. 15th St. site due to delays in acquiring the space. Parents and advocates from the Clinton School have rejected this proposal, urging the department to postpone any move until a new site is secured and a relocation plan is in place.
“We strongly disagree with a temporary move, just as we did at the very first meeting with the DOE [last year],” read an open letter to the department from the Clinton School’s Relocation Committee, which formed last year to explore possible sites for the middle school. “Why? Because the DOE does not yet have a permanent plan in place, and our children could be in a temporary space for up to four years, assuming the sale of our desired building even goes through. There are too many unknowns that will leave our children in the lurch with no guarantees in place on a new space.”
In a Dec. 4 letter to Clinton School parents, the DOE stated it didn’t anticipate having a brand-new site available for the middle school “until at least 2012, and more likely not until 2013 or 2014, depending on timing of site acquisition, design requirements and the extent of construction required.”
The letter further stated that a move to PS 33 would keep Clinton School students from having to relocate again during their time at the school. It added and the W. 26th St. building offers a full-size gymnasium, larger rooms, wider hallways and will allow the school to consolidate all of its classrooms on a lower floor.
The department’s decision does not, however, amount to a victory for the parents and advocates from PS 11, who held an October rally in front of the school to demand that the DOE find a new home for the Clinton School. Following the announcement of the proposed relocation of the middle school to PS 33, the DOE informed PS 11’s principal that it is considering bringing another elementary school into the space vacated by the Clinton School.
“We see this as extremely shortsighted, especially when our population is growing so rapidly,” said Vicki Arbitrio, a PS 11 parent and chairperson of the Constituent Education Advocacy Committee, which grew out of the PS 11 parent-teacher association. “In this formation, we would return to being overcrowded again in just one year. After the long, arduous process of relocating Clinton Middle School with reducing overcrowding at both schools as the purported goal, it really amounts to a betrayal to all parties involved.”
Despite rumors of another school sharing space with PS 11, the DOE stated that it intends to expand the elementary school rather than relocating an entirely new one to the building—a much more agreeable proposition for advocates.
“That’s great that PS 11 can expand into the whole bldg,” Arbitrio added, “but I’m not holding my breath, because it’s the DOE and things change.”
The proposed Clinton School relocation would also result in the displacement of PS 138, a special-education school that shares space with PS 33, creating even more questions over the fate of local students.
Quinn, on the other hand, did offer support for the DOE’s decision, saying that although the Clinton move “is far from anyone’s first choice,” she couldn’t support the middle school staying at PS 11 another year.
“PS 33 is a good school that can potentially offer facilities more suitable for middle school children than PS 11, including a full-size gym,” she stated in a letter co-signed by Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, State Sen. Thomas Duane, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. “We think it is a viable temporary option, as by moving now, no Clinton student would be subjected to multiple moves during their three-year tenure.”
The letter also noted that the action would require the majority of PS 138’s students to relocate to the American Sign Language and English School on E. 23rd St.
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