Monday, November 2, 2015

Parent Shares Board of Ed Candidate Answers to Redistricting Questions

(Editor's note:  Just as the campaign season began, the Board of Education began first steps on a plan for elementary school redistricting based on overcrowding at Farm Hill School, and disparities in racial populations at Macdonough and Moody schools.  The Board created a committee to address the need to solve these problems, and hired consultants Milone and Mcbroom to analyze the situation and proposed solutions.  Those solutions were presented to the public, first at a meeting on October 22.  A second public session is scheduled to be held on November 12, after this Tuesday's election.  Below are the answers as compiled by Stephen Peters).

BOE Candidate Questionnaire 
Hi my name is Stephen Roberts. I have three young children in the Middletown school system who all potentially will be affected by redistricting. Therefore, I had some questions for the Board of Education candidates who are running for election this November 3rd. I asked all the candidates the questions below, let them know I would be sharing them with other parents/ voters and encouraged them to get their running mates to respond to me. I gave them a deadline, and attached are their responses. I have listed them all in alphabetical order.

  1. Middletown does not currently have schools that are out of compliance with Connecticut's Racial Imbalance Law, yet a Redistricting Committee is currently developing a City-Wide redistricting plan for the Board of Education for implementation next school year. Would you vote to approve a City-Wide redistricting plan to be implemented next school year? 
  2. In the event that any of Middletown's elementary schools should become in violation of the state's racial balancing mandates, what do you feel the best long term approach to solving this would be? 
  3. The Redistricting Committee has now added the additional goal of trying to balance the schools by socioeconomic status, as measured by the percent of students receiving free and reduced lunches at each school. Should students be bused away from their neighborhood school to achieve this goal? 
  4. What does it mean to you to have equity across all elementary schools in the city? 

Alston, Pat (Democratic Candidate) 
Chose not to respond 
Cain, Deborah (Democratic Candidate) 
Chose not to respond 
Dempsey-White, Anita (Democratic Candidate) 
Chose not to respond
Drake, Chris (Democratic Candidate) 
  1. The Middletown School District has an obligation to do what it thinks is in the educational interests of its students, not merely follow the exact letter of the law. There are numerous things the school district does because it believes it is good for the students, not because it is mandated by law. For example, there is no law requiring us to have sports teams, but we have them.
    With respect to redistricting, if I am presented with a redistricting plan that I determine is in the best interests of the students, I will vote for it. If I am presented with a redistricting plan that I determine is not in the best interests of the students, I will not vote for it. And if I believe that redistricting is needed, but implementation should be delayed for a year or more, I will support that. Right now, there is no concrete proposal to comment on, because the committee is at least three months away from submitting a final recommended plan to the board. The current board created that process, I am respectful of it, and am interested in how it will play out. 
  2. In the short term, I would expect redistricting would have to be done and that the State Board of Education would expect us to respond quickly. In the long-term, I'm hopeful and optimistic about the prospects of capital improvements at Woodrow Wilson, which would allow us to move the 6th Grade there and free-up Keigwin for use, possibly as an intradistrict magnet. A K-5 or K-8 intradistrict magnet could be a wonderful option for parents and provide some flexibility with respect to our demographic issues. Also, I think the city should consider these issues with respect to its planning and development activities. Specifically, these issues should be considered in the context of additional affordable housing opportunities and riverfront redevelopment, which could attract more middle-income people into the downtown/north end area. 
  3. I have read the research and credit the opinions of the superintendent and associate superintendent, so I believe in the concept that racial and socioeconomic balance is in the educational interests of all students. Middletown's demographics are what they are and we do currently have two elementary schools that deviate significantly from the city-wide average. I do think that is an issue that merits serious consideration. Clearly the current board thought so as well, which is why they created the redistricting subcommittee. Obviously a balance needs to be struck on the transportation side. You don't want kids on the bus for a long time and you don't want to make it unreasonably difficult for parents to get to the school.We are fortunate that we have so many elementary schools in town. Most districts our size do not have so many. Given that we have so many, I'm confident that a good balance can be struck between transportation and the goal of ensuring that all of our city elementary schools are reasonably close to the demographics of our city as a whole. 
  4. Equity within Middletown schools would mean that facilities are substantially the same, the teachers are of the same quality and experience (i.e., we don't have one school with all the experienced teachers and one with all the new ones), the per capita student spending was substantially the same (though that is dependent on the percentage of special education students in any one school), and that the demographic factors within each school are substantially the same (clearly not a problem in grades 6 - 12). Let me just give you one example of why demographics matter. Say all the other factors were equal, but we had one school with a high concentration of wealth and one with a high concentration of poverty. There is no mechanism to prevent the parents of the wealthier school from using their own resources to provide opportunities within the school that the parents in the poorer school cannot provide. Things like school trips, computers and technology equipment, playground equipment and the like. Certainly parents that do that are simply trying to improve the educational environment for their children and aren’t intentionally trying to create an inequity, but in my mind the effect is inequality between two schools within the city of Middletown. So that is one reason why economic factors within and among our schools is important.

Dunkley, Marilyn (Democratic Candidate) 

  1. As I have been told the numbers the consultants used to make all maps are last year's and the year before numbers, so for all we know we are in the red.....but we won't know enrollment numbers for at least a couple of weeks, I can't answer that question until I know for sure if we are in the red. I also believe we should still have a plan, you can't put a bandaid on a bullet wound.....we need to do something so we are not up in arms in 2 years! 
  2. In a perfect world I would love to see all neighbor schools.....but the way our schools are an how society is that may not happen, we need to meet the State mandates, fix the over crowding, the schools should be used to their full capacity. I don't know how to do that without any upset, kids will move, there is no way around that, nobody wants to move from their school I get that, I am a Macdonough Mom 7 years, believe me I have had to fight for my school an my kids! We need to fix the short term an make a REALLY good long term 
  3. No Way!!!! I am against a child passing a school or more to go to theirs! And I am against long bus rides! I walk my child every day Macdonough only has 1 bus!
    That being said if a Magnetic School happens, I don't know how that is going to happen, I feel like if we get this year's enrollment and we are good we should go one more year bc there is a lot to consider, and I feel like we have had a lot of meetings that have gotten no where bc we keep going back to the drawing board. Parent input might just have us going back to the drawing board! 
  4. 4. Every child should go to any school in the district an have all the same programs, how to do that?? It's going to take a lot of work!
    Every school should have Trips (not in any type of order), Mentors, Tutors, Gardens, After School (dance, music, art, garden, bully teams, etc), Parent Groups, Family Nights, Pre-school, FRC (Family Resource Center), Middlesex College Students Assistants, Wesleyan College Student Assistants, Core Parent Volunteers (P.I.A), Community Health Base Center Full Time, A Band Room, A Art Room, A Music, Full Staff, One to One, Parent Advocates, Support for Families dealing PPT's & 501-4's, Support for Children with Special Needs, All Sports, Field Trips
    And that's just off the top of my head! 

McClellan, Cheryl (Republican Candidate) 

  1. I would not vote to approve a City-Wide redistricting plan to be implemented next school year. 
  2. I would like to see the numbers of students at the Macdonough STEM Magnet school and see what effect that had on racial imbalance, If there is a clear violation, I would like to explore the possibility of converting our schools to a K-2 and 3-5 network of schools within the district. Of course, the parents of the district would have to believe that such a plan not only would work, but could benefit their child. Another possibility is to create centers of excellence within each elementary school to improve the academic success of each student within their own school. 
  3. I do not believe that students should be bused out of their neighborhood schools to achieve a socioeconomic status balance within the district. It is unnecessary movement and use of the budget to pay for busing when there have been studies that show improvement in academics can happen without busing. 
  4. Equity in Education means that each student has equal access to educational resources and supports. I do not believe that busing students around the city will provide equity in education. Teachers should determine which services and supports would best provide their students with the necessary social, emotional, and physical well-being for academic success. This can be done in each student’s own neighborhood school. 

Meeker, Troy (Republican Candidate) 

  1. I would not vote to approve a city wide redistricting plan to be implemented next year. However, we do need to address the over utilization of Farm Hill School. 
  2. We need to explore all avenues before considering redistricting. If we find ourselves in violation of the state mandates, we have many options available to us before we need to think about redistricting. These options include submitting a plan for improvement to the state BOE, or examining a program that allows parents to voluntarily send their children to a different school. 
  3. Students should not be bussed past one or two schools to reach their own school in order to achieve socioeconomic balance. This adds commute time to their day, and creates proximity issues for parents. I believe the neighborhood schools our city has are vital parts of our community. We should not disrupt this system. 
  4. Equity, to me, means each child is able to succeed in their individual learning environment. All of our schools have the potential to be excellent, and we need to work to achieve this goal. A child should be able to receive the same great education regardless of which school in our city they attend. 

Petter, Christopher (Republican Candidate) 

  1. I would not vote for any of the plans that are currently proposed, because of how they have been developed. The Redistricting Committee is supposed to be looking at long-term solutions to school overcrowding/under-use, because the portable classroom at Farm Hill is expensive and taking money out of the classroom. The Committee is not currently doing that, and have inserted their own agenda into the proposals. I do not believe the socioeconomic balancing that is being attempted is what is best for our City, which will be discussed more in the answer to question 3. We should not be disrupting 25%, or more, of our children and families. I would approve a small redistricting, especially if it is choice based, to alleviate the problem at Farm Hill. It just does not make sense to spend money on a yearly basis to have a portable classroom set up. That is money that could be used to support the teachers in the classroom. I also do not think that it is good for the children to have to walk outside in inclement weather to use the rest of the resources in the school.
  2. I believe the idea of developing a magnet school would be a boon to the City. Changing Snow to a magnet school would bring a terrific opportunity to our City. It would also allow us to take a disproportionate amount of students from the school that is out-of-balance, compared to the other schools, to bring us back in compliance. There would have to be some redistricting, because the Snow families would have to be spread out to different schools, but it would prevent forced city-wide redistricting. There is also currently research being done into the costs of combining 6th, 7th and 8th grade again in a new school building. Woodrow Wilson is in disrepair, but Keigwin is still usable with some renovations. Depending on the cost, we may be able to turn Keigwin into a magnet school for middle school aged children. The second part of the plan would require funding and possible state grants to institute. This plan prevents city-wide redistricting, keeps us within the state laws, and provides a great opportunity for our students at the magnet school or schools. 
  3. First, I think that using free lunches alone to determine socioeconomic status is not statistically correct. I have spoken to a number of people involved in school districts around that state that all agree that some people do not accept free lunches for a variety of reasons. That means that the information being used to develop this plan is flawed to begin with. Second, most studies suggest that there is a tipping point of socioeconomic integration where the integration starts to hurt all students. That number is generally thought to be at about 50%. The problem is that the redistricting committee has set the goal of integration at 50%. Even if you thought the balancing was a good idea, why would you bring it to exact tipping point? In the past few years, Meriden abolished their class level tiers. That means that children of all learning levels were put in classrooms together. The reasoning was that the well-performing children would help pull up the under-performing children. In theory, it makes sense. 10 kids that work hard and take pride in their schooling may instill the same pride and work ethic in 2 children that did not have that before. (This is the same theory behind the socioeconomic balancing.) The problem was that it was not implemented that way. Instead, there would be classes of 10 under-performing students that brought the 2 well-performing students down. It ended up negatively affecting all of the children, just like crossing the tipping point of socioeconomic balancing would.
    Third, the studies being used to support the current plans are based on charter schools, which by definition are voluntary. A parent that takes the effort to find a charter school for their children will, by definition, be more active than some parents at public schools. The idea behind socioeconomic balancing is that the privileged children, who theoretically have parents active in their children's schooling, will help instill a pride in schooling to the underprivileged children, who in theory don't have parents active in their children's schooling. The studies with more active parents don't address the root theory behind the balancing.
    Fourth, busing will be needed to divide the districts into a socioeconomic balance. Studies have shown that children are negatively impacted when riding the bus for more than 30 minutes one way. The children start to show fatigue, which could negatively impact their schooling. Then, the fatigue will show up again in the afternoon, and the children will be less likely to take part in out-of-school activities. That will affect their social development as well as their ability to get exercise. In addition, long bus rides are the breeding grounds of bullying. The children are unsupervised and bored. That boredom leads them to act out, and it is usually against another student. The lack of supervision on the bus then lets the problem escalate.
    Finally, Middletown is very fortunate to have walking schools. As a district, we are always looking for ways to increase parent involvement. Now, the Redistricting Committee is planning on removing the ability for some families to walk their child to school. By definition this reduces parent involvement, because the parents won't be at the school on a daily basis anymore. Instead, they will pick their child up from a bus stop. In addition, some of the families that walk to school live where they do because they do not have a car. How are they supposed to get their child when they are sick or need help? They won't be able to walk to the school like they used to. They won't be able to drive to the school without a car. They won't want to bring a sick child onto a bus. That limits them to a taxi, which will cost them money. Will they still be motivated to go to parent teacher conferences when it costs them the money for a taxi ride? Some will still go, but you will likely lose some parent involvement. That is the opposite of what we want to happen. 
  4. To me, equity across all schools means that every student that walks into Keigwin in 6th grade had the opportunity to learn the same information and had access to the same resources. Equity across all schools means that the financial resources are evenly split across all schools. Equity across all schools means that there is not a "good" school or a "bad" school. Instead, parents and people moving into Middletown will be able to take pride in their school district. This is vital for our school district. Right now, Moody is rated, by outside companies, as the best elementary school in Middletown. We need to take the lessons from Moody and help apply them to the other schools in the City. The solution is not shipping Moody students to the other schools, but instead we should be spreading the ideas behind the success to the other schools. We also need to start spreading the word about the quality in our other schools. Moody is not the only good school in town. 

Salafia, Linda (Republican Candidate) 

  1. With the information that I currently have and the questions that I have, I would not vote for a city-wide redistricting plan. 
  2. We are going to be faced with a lot of questions and decisions that are going to be needed to be answered not just being in violation of the state's racial balancing mandates including but not limited to the state of our school buildings including Keigwin and Woodrow Wilson Middle School; the cost of our school transportation and our services for special education students. Do we keep Keigwin as a stand alone 6th grade or combine into the Middle School? Do we build a new 6 through 8 grade complex. Do we build a new elementary school? What are the penalties involved with being out of compliance? Do we close a school and expand another? Do we develop magnet schools for the arts or languages or sciences; one or several? What about development in the city; are of the planned constructions going to impact school enrollment?
    Personally I feel that this is a decision that requires much more discussion than a few committee meetings and a couple of public sessions and involves more than the possible racial imbalance in one school. All options need to be completely vetted and the financial impact of each examined. We need to come up with a more global solution to our problems rather than deal with each one individually and in a vacuum.
  3. No, I would not bus students away from their neighborhood schools to achieve this goal for the elementary grades at this time. Personally, I like that the students all funnel from the elementary schools to Keigwin for the sixth grade and in a way, that blends the whole city. 
  4. I think that each student should be able to have the same access to what they need to succeed in school. The programs, curriculum, services and activities should be the same for each school; funding and supplies should be as equal and evenly distributed as possible. 

Sveen, Emmakristina (Republican Candidate) 

  1. I would not vote to approve a city-wide redistricting plan, no. As you stated in the question, it is not of legal obligation to redistrict the city at this point as Middletown is in compliance the Racial Imbalance Law.
    It is a priority of mine to ensure that neighborhoods and communities are not being broken up by separating students who have gone to school together for a number of years; and that we acknowledge how important it is for the convenience of Middletown families to have school districts that make sense geographically. 
  2. If Middletown elementary schools were to fall out of compliance with the state law then some form of "redistricting" would be in order to reestablish that balance. However those alterations need not be as drastic as the currently pending plan. It is absolutely possible to develop a more modest alternative to address a situation in which our elementary schools were not of legal standard. That being said, I do not foresee that situation being an issue in the near future. 
  3. Redistricting on the basis of socioeconomic status would certainly have its benefits, however is not reason enough to break up Middletown communities to the drastic extent that has been proposed by the Redistricting Committee. Distributing funds more equally across Middletown's elementary schools can be achieved with a different plan that does not require separating young students and dividing communities. 
  4. To have equity across all elementary schools in the city means every student is receiving the same quality of education so that on the first day of sixth grade at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, every individual is on the same playing field; regardless of race or socioeconomic status. There are many variables that come into play when considering "quality" of education that has more to do with the wonderful Middletown elementary school teachers and their learning environment. However with the lost sense of community and disgruntlement among parents that would undoubtedly result from redistricting, I don't believe that positive learning environment can exist. When it comes to our children, equity goes far beyond what you see with your eyes; it means to ensure equal preparedness for the next level of schooling and equal education overall.

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