Monday, December 14, 2015

Redistricting Committee Moves Further From Redistricting

At yet another public session about the possible redistricting of Middletown Elementary Schools, consultants from Millone and McBroom explained that the redistricting committee appeared to be leaning toward a "no redistricting" option, with long-term planning to address the issues of overcrowding and racial imbalance.

Once again, Millone and McBroom consultants Rebecca Augur and Pat Gallagher presented new options, formulated based on a marathon meeting of the redistricting committee earlier in December.

The consultants provided a brief on the reasons that redistricting had been considered in the first place, including overcrowding a Farm Hill Elementary, and racial and socio-economic imbalance at other schools, most notably Macdonough and Moody.

The immediacy of the need for change has been tempered by two factors: a change in the racial imbalance of the entire district (the district is now more than 50% minority students),  and a current and projected decrease in student population.  Those changes mean that the district is no longer threatened with sanctions from the state because of racial imbalance, and that overcrowding at Farm Hill may be ameliorated by changes in the school-age population.

The consultants made their presentation to about 75 parents gathered at Snow School, and most of the members of the Board of Education, along with members of the redistricting committee.

Two new options were presented.  One called for no redistricting with a cap on kindergarten enrollment at any school which reaches capacity.  The other called for spot redistricting that would largely affect students and families at Farm Hill, with between 50-75 students moved to either Wesley or Moody Schools.

While several Moody parents attended the meeting, the new plan seemed to mollify their earlier concerns.  That was not the case for Farm Hill parents, who spoke strongly in opposition to spot redistricting.

"If I'm going to have to switch schools, I'm going to do it once," parent Heather Varni said, referring to an option to consider a school of choice, or a private education.  "Then I'll move where I want to move and it will be my decision."

"This decision is being made for us, so I'm adamantly against it," said concerned parent Amy Hemenway.  "How will we help students cope with this loss."

Parental concern was balanced by Farm Hill staff who noted that the school was indeed crowded.

"I don't have an office," said Farm Hill library specialist Lori Petras.  "I don't have a place to hang my coat.  We use supply closets as classrooms.  We're bursting at the seams.  Each child deserves a quality education."

Farm Hill parent Cathy Lechowicz also spoke in favor of tackling the problems the district faces, and making the kind of changes that will be meaningful.

"I don't think spot redistricting works," Lechowicz said.  "I'm the only parent who has spoken in favor of redistricting.  When we make the change, I want to be confident that when my two-year old is ready to go to school that I'm on board with it."

Diana Martinez, a Farm Hill parent was concerned that the shift in redistricting plans did not have all the children of the city in mind.

"I think that some families' voices have more weight than others," Martinez said.

The meeting ended with Superintendent Pat Charles delivering the results of a limited poll in which parents indicated that they were not in favor of voluntary redistricting.

In addition, upon questioning, Charles said that next steps would include another meeting of the redistricting committee at which members would consider the feed back from parents, and then an eventual presentation to the entire Board of Education for a vote on whether any plan will go forward.

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