With more families seeking to enroll children in public schools than many swiftly developing neighborhoods appear ready to accommodate, the Department of Education has quietly begun to explore a third-rail option: rezoning.
The process, to be rolled out as an option in meetings with every school district in the city during the next few months, would involve rewriting the rules dictating which neighborhoods are tied to which schools.
One possibility being raised at a meeting tonight on the Upper East Side would have families living in the new luxury condominiums rising in Midtown East being sent to a school on Roosevelt Island or to a school for the deaf, rather than to the coveted P.S. 116 boasted about in brochures for the condo.
Another proposal being mulled by Brooklyn community leaders would tighten the borders around P.S. 321 in Park Slope, cutting off parts of the popular elementary school's catchment zone and sending those children instead to a nearby elementary school in another district.
"I imagine that I would be hung in effigy and/or drawn and quartered by the population of Park Slope for considering this," the first vice president of District 15's Community Education Council, James Devor, said, explaining the idea. "But I think it's something that has to be considered."
The push by both school officials and parents follows rising alarm that there are not enough public schools to meet demand in certain neighborhoods that are seeing an increase in families, from Queens to Brooklyn to Manhattan.
The city comptroller, William Thompson Jr., issued a report criticizing the city's capital planning process for schools as "broken."
The president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer, said that in Manhattan alone the Department of Education is more than 2,000 seats short.
Rezoning has made more progress in two of Manhattan's most affluent districts, District 2, covering the Upper East Side, most of Midtown, and Lower Manhattan, and District 3, covering the Upper West Side.
Both districts' community education councils — the parent groups that have authority over rezoning plans — are holding meetings discussing the subject tonight.
Efforts by the Department of Education to urge rezoning as one way to ease crowding initiated the meetings; it was inside a department blueprint on the situation in District 2 that the idea of transferring students to less-utilized schools, such as the one on Roosevelt Island and the American Sign Language School on 23rd Street, was raised.
The proposals are already causing concern among parents, many of whom took great pains (and, in some cases, great loans) to squeeze themselves into their specific school zones.
A member of the District 2 community education council, Mary Silver, described the response of parents as "emotional."
"Frankly, telling a kindergarten parent that you're going to ship their kid to Roosevelt Island is not going to help you make friends and influence people," Ms. Silver said. "Why don't you send them to Princeton? It's crazy."
Such emotions could soon be stirred up in many other parts of the city.
"We're having a similar discussion with every district in the next few months," a Department of Education spokesman, Andrew Jacob, said. "What we're going to do after that is identify the districts that are the highest priority that we need to address their issues immediately."
Mr. Jacob said the discussions will be on the subject of "capacity," and will focus on three kinds of solutions. One is rezoning. Another is new construction. A third is cracking down on children that are attending schools even though they do not live in their zones.
So far, the community education councils that have final authority over zoning questions appear to be jumping aboard the rezoning idea — though they are saying rezoning must only be one part of a solution that also includes constructing more school buildings.
"When our district comes to this point of overcrowding, we need to look at all the tools, and changing the zoning lines is one of the tools to alleviate overcrowding," the secretary of the council in District 3 and the head of its space committee, Jennifer Freeman, said.
Leaders of the councils acknowledge that their task will be difficult.
Ms. Silver said that, to make the conversation as smooth as possible, she is urging every parent association in her district to form a special overcrowding committee that would write its school's own wish list for possible zoning changes.
She said that would enable a process she called a "listening tour" to seek ideas from many neighborhoods.
The founder of the consulting firm School Search NYC, Robin Aronow, is paying close attention to the conversation. She called rezoning "a political hot potato — even if it makes sense."
"People bought homes and rented apartments in school zones with the understanding that their kids would be able to go to those zoned schools," Ms. Aronow said. "I think it will be a very controversial proposition."