The Board of Education voted tonight to accept three of four recommendations from the Ad Hoc Feasibility Committee:
1. The proposed attendance boundaries were accepted (see map here).
2. 4th graders have the option to stay at their current school if parents provide their own transportation and notify the administration of their decision to stay by May 15, 2010.
3. The BOE directed the Superintendent to establish uniform school welcoming and supporting policies that all schools will use to integrate new families into the school community.
4. The proposal to establish a new committee to study other JCJ recommendations was tabled until the next BOE meeting. Multiple board members wanted a chance to decide what they want this new committee to do.
During the public session, many parents bemoaned their lack of choice about where to send their child to school. Several argued that all children should have the choice to be grandfathered (not just 4th graders). Many also complained that their children would not handle change well, and that it didn't make any sense to move when their children were well adjusted and happy. Still others argued that they had bought specific homes in specific parts of town for specific schools, and it was unfair for the school board to suddenly change attendance lines.
On the other side of the spectrum, Ed McKeon (speaking as a parent of 7 year old twins) commented that Middletown's goal should be to have the best school system in the state. "We're not there yet, but this plan is a step in the right direction...we have to do it because it's the best for all our kids." A Macdonough parent and PTA member urged other parents to "make this a teachable moment...your child will do what you do...change is as hard as you make it." She challenged parents to visit Macdonough and to "check us out" because the PTA is doing everything it can to make new families feel welcome. Izzie Greenberg, Director of the North End Action Team (NEAT) and one of the Ad Hoc Committee members, rejected the notion that redistricting is "all Macdonough's fault." She specifically stated that racial imbalance was only one part of the puzzle that had to be solved: Moody's overcrowding and inequities in school resources and building usages were other major problems that had to be addressed. A Moody parent told me afterwards that "Moody has been so overcrowded for so long that everyone else in town got the benefit." This parent also added that while it's great that everyone likes their school, you can't have empty seats on one side of town when there aren't enough seats on the other side of town.
During the Board's discussions before the vote, several members did point out that a 2% change in Macdonough's minority population really isn't a margin of safety that anyone feels good about. Macdonough's Oct. 2009 enrollment population was 213, and its proposed population is 228. Two percent of 228 students is only 4.5 students, and it could take just two or three families to swing the minority population outside the alloted 25% of the district average. More than one parent commented that this isn't a significant enough change to justify the level of disruption for hundreds of families across the district. At the same time, though, several BOE members commented that parents had overwhelmingly told JCJ Architect that they wanted neighborhood schools, and that Middletown hasn't had neighborhood schools in years. As an example, 79 kids are bused out of the North End to Moody School, and most of those parents don't have transportation to attend school events or parent/teacher meetings. Additionally, the law requires that we achieve racial balance: as BOE member Bill Grady pointed out, "we don't get points for trying."
After the meeting, Mayor Giuliano commented, "How many Boards of Education and superintendents have faced this same issue? It's not new, and at some point, you have to just pick a plan and move forward." (Interestingly, the mayor mentors a 5th grader at Macdonough every Friday.) Giuliano also hinted that the BOE won't get the budget it submitted: "I think we trimmed about $140,000 from what they asked us for."
In the end, redistricting is happening and it is happening now. I will say that Middletown is a large city that acts like a small town - we're so spread out from each other than it's hard to remember that there are eight elementary schools and two middle schools and a high school. You can think small town in your individual school, but you can't govern that way when you have eleven buildings to manage. Furthermore, several populations have shouldered an unequal distribution of resources and space. While it may be inconvenient for some happy children to move, it's just wrong for many others to suffer overcrowded or under-resourced situations for even one minute longer.
And to all those parents who wanted a choice, I say this: you can vote with your checkbook and during elections. While it was nice to see you at tonight's meeting, where have you been all this long while? Sure, you might attend PTA meetings but have you been to a Common Council meeting? Do you even know how much our district will be hurting for funds in the next two years? Have you pushed for a more rigorous curriculum or a longer school day or a foreign language program? Our district didn't just fall off a ladder yesterday and land on the "needs improvement" square...the decline has been many years in the making. What are you going to do to change this? Will you pay for everyone in town to have the same community you wanted to stay with?
Don't misunderstand me. I was excited to see tons of new faces at a BOE meeting! I just hope you keep coming back...it will take all of us working together to get where we want to go.