Home > Uncategorized > Redistricting in Red Hook, Gowanus, Cobble Hill Illustrates Dilemma Posed by Gentrification

Redistricting in Red Hook, Gowanus, Cobble Hill Illustrates Dilemma Posed by Gentrification

August 28, 2019
A few years ago my younger daughter moved into the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, drawn by the relatively low rents, its artsy-funky feel, and the spectacular views from the waterfront in that area. The neighborhood consisted mostly of warehouses and small two story houses formerly populated by the families of longshoreman who worked on the docks that formerly dotted the waterfront. When the waterfront docks disappeared, the city constructed multi-story housing projects surrounded by parks and the neighborhood surrounding those projects was, for the most part, vacated.
Now, thanks to the siting of a huge IKEA store, an upscale grocery store, and the immigration of artists and craftspeople drawn to the warehouse spaces that serve as wonderful studios, Red Hook is slowly gentrifying. At the same time, Cobble Hill, an adjoining neighborhood separated by a massive interstate highway, is also expanding and, as a result, some schools are bursting at the seams while others remain under crowded. The problem is that the OVERCROWDED schools serve affluent whites moving into Cobble Hill and some parts of Red Hook while the UNDER-CROWDED schools are almost entirely black.
Last night, my younger daughter called after attending a public meeting in her neighborhood seeking some insights from me on the plans the city plans to implement to address this issue. She was dismayed that those in attendance were mostly from affluent white schools and not from Red Hook and felt that those in attendance did not want to see any changes at all. In looking at the information available on line, it struck me that as is always the case in redistricting, the devil will be in the details. Here’s an excerpt from a June 21 Chalkbeat article that described the two alternatives under consideration and, in doing so, raises more questions than it answers:
For the elementary schools, one of the floated proposals would redraw smaller attendance zones around overcrowded P.S. 29 and P.S. 58, while increasing the zones around schools that have unused space.
The second would move the district to a lottery admissions system, with families applying to the schools of their choice.
Both scenarios would include a priority for 25 to 35% of seats for students who are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The aim is for every school to enroll a percentage of those students, who often need more support to thrive, that matches the average across the seven affected schools.
Either approach is likely to face stiff pushback, especially since some of the affected schools are among the district’s most coveted — and least diverse, racially, ethnically, and economically. For example, at P.S. 58, more than 73% of students are white and less than 12% come from low-income families. But at P.S. 676, virtually all students are black or Hispanic and come from low-income families.

Under the first possibility presented, the attendance zones around overcrowded schools would be reduced. P.S. 29 would admit 90 to 100 kindergarten students, down from 153 currently. P.S. 58 would enroll 100 to 110 students, down from 193. 

Other schools would see an increase in their zone size. Those schools are P.S. 15, P.S. 38, and P.S. 32, which is opening an addition with room for more than 400 new students.

P.S. 676 and P.S. 261 would preserve their current zone size.

All of the schools would give an admissions priority to vulnerable students for 25 to 35% of seats.

The education department did not provide specifics for how zone lines might be redrawn, saying they want to hear feedback on both broad approaches before drilling down further into either.

So… from what I understand, at this juncture the education department hasn’t drawn any lines as yet, which, as far as I am concerned, makes any discussion about “…which plan is best” pointless. Indeed, it may well be that those who are arguing most vociferously about staying in their “neighborhood school” might oppose the school board’s definition of “neighborhood” when the boundaries around PS 29 and 58 are diminished to make way for the 25-35% of new students who “…are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.” 

Sine my grandchildren attend PS 15, whose boundaries are expanding, it MAY be in my daughter’s self interest to support plan 1 since it would, in all probability, result in some of the displaced affluent PS 29 and 58 students moving into her “neighborhood” school— because it WILL be the affluent parents who have to move out of their overcrowded “neighborhood” schools to make way for the students who “…are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.” 
 
In looking at the two plans, my daughter tended to favor the lottery pan as being more fair, and that plan does mirror the middle school plan, a plan that seems to be functioning well at accomplishing the goals of diversity and solid academics. To those affluent parents who argue in favor of “providing more resources to needy schools” it might be worthwhile to roll out some data on how much more the affluent parents raise for their schools and suggest that, say, 75% of that supplementary funding be shared with their needier “neighborhood” schools.
In the end, I think the term “neighborhood schools” should be abandoned and replaced with “school communities”… because when gentrification takes place “neighborhood” schools tend to be economically and racially segregated. In NYC, the middle schools-of-choice tend to be more economically and racially diverse… and when kids are pulled from all over the city into a “school-of-choice” it is incumbent on the school administration to create a school community— which many of them do by providing orientation sessions before the opening of school so that the newly created cohort can get to know each other. 
At it was interesting to note that while one of the affluent schools sent parents a notice of this meeting that took place in Red Hook, my daughter did not get anything from her school… which COULD lead the board to conclude that “parents in Red Hook don’t care”.
And here’s what my experiences in MD and NY tell me: redistricting is a lose-lose proposition no matter how it is carried out. Parents are attached to the schools their child attends even if they are overcrowded and dilapidated and are fearful of what will happen if they move to a new place.
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