Levy solves school zoning problems at Bell Park

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Interim Schools Chancellor Harold Levy ended the problem bedeviling a Bellerose apartment complex split between School District 26 and District 29 when he provided residents with the option of attending schools in either district last week.

School zoning problems in the Bell Park Manor-Terrace apartment complex first came to light in August when parents trying to register their children in PS 18 in School District 26 were told they were actually zoned for overcrowded PS 33 in School District 29.

The Board of Elections' descriptive boundary maps and the Board of Education's maps all place Bell Park Manor in District 26, which means residents of the complex vote in that district.

But the school district zoning lines, which were mapped out before the city school system was decentralized in 1969, place about 10 percent of the complex into overcrowded School District 29.

District 26 includes Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Glen Oaks, and parts of Auburndale, Fresh Meadows and Bellerose, while District 29 covers Queens Village, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale and parts of Jamaica.

In a letter March 14 to School Board 26 President Sharon Maurer and School Board 29 Trustee Fermin Archer, Levy said "effective in September 2000, the pupils zoned to PS 33 from the District 26 area, will have the option of attending PS 18 or another school located in District 26, depending on space availability."

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), who had been working on the zoning problem for about two years, called Bell Park a community with common interests. He said it made no sense for some "Bell Park parents to vote on school board representation in District 26 and not be able to send their children to class in that district."

Kathy Taylor, president of the Bell Park Community Council, said "we won the school battle. It's over, it's finally over." Taylor had been fighting the problem since she attempted to register her children for District 26's PS 18 last fall.

While Levy did not rezone the area of Bell Park, he agreed to give parents the option of attending either school district under what he described as the District 26 Optional Assignment Program.

In November, School Board 26 completed an investigation that determined six addresses in the complex's northwestern corner belonged to District 26 rather than District 29. About 136 families in a large portion of the development south of Hillside Avenue were still left in a zoning limbo until Levy's decision last week.

Kirby Lindell, president of the Bell Park board of directors, said: "I only did this for the children to make sure they could get the best education possible. Sometimes the good guy wins."

Maurer described the deal as "something that does well for all the children."

City Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis), who had been working on the problem for more than a year, applauded Levy's actions.

Rory Lancman, a Democratic candidate for Padavan's state senate seat, who took up the Bellerose apartment complex's cause in October and wrote a letter to then Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew, said: "I think I've done a lot of work on this issue."

In a statement, Lancman said: "I am thrilled that the Board of Education has seen the light, and that these children will finally be able to attend school in the district in which they live. I'm glad I was able to help."

At a March 9 Democratic club meeting, Lancman was able to get Board of Education President William Thompson to agree to meet with Bell Park residents to discuss the problem. Levy's decision came down before the meeting could happen.

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