New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott was on the Lower East Wednesday night for a town hall meeting. He answered questions from parents and other interested members of the public during a sparsely attended hour-long gathering at P.S. 20 on Essex Street. The event was hosted by the District 1 Community Education Council.
Among the issues raised during the forum: Community Board 3’s desire to build a new school in the neighborhood as part of the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Plan. Earlier this month, the city released a Request For Proposals (RFP) for the 1.6 million square foot project. City planners agreed to set aside a 15,000 square foot parcel at the corner of Grand and Suffolk streets for a school.
But there’s a catch. The School Construction Authority has told city planners that, in their view, there’s no need for a new school in District 1. On Wednesday, members of CB3 handed Walcott a two-page memo titled, “the case for a school at the Seward Park Mixed Use Development Site.” Calling for a school that would be shared by both Districts 1 and 2 (the site straddles the two districts), the document read, “We find there is a demonstrable need for a shared… Pre-K to 8th grade school… Districts 1 and 2 are both growing at comparable rates. District 2 currently suffers from extreme overcrowding.”
The memo notes that the Seward Park project will add 1000 apartments to the Lower East Side housing mix, and that in other communities, new housing construction has not been met with additional classroom space. According to the DOE’s own data, public school enrollment in growing faster in District 1 than any other district in the city.
Walcott said he was not personally aware of the situation at Seward Park, but acknowledged that DOE staff have been aprised of CB3’s desire for a new school. “We are always looking for opportunities” to add schools, Walcott said, adding that the DOE must analyze how to allocate scarce resources. “If there is a need for a school we would definitely look at it,” he said.