Calm before storm? Board taps panel to study new school districts
Updated 10:37 am, Wednesday, August 26, 2015
The Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee, to comprise school board Vice Chairman John Convertito and board members Eileen Liu-McCormack and Marc Patten, was charged with investigating whether elementary school attendance zones could be redrawn “to efficiently and appropriately utilize school facilities for elementary school students,” according to the revised mission statement approved Tuesday.
Several of Fairfield’s 11 elementary schools are overcrowded, including Mill Hill and Holland Hill schools, while others, such as Burr Elementary, Dwight and McKinley schools have room for dozens more students. The redistricting committee’s formation comes on the heels of board discussions about potentially expanding Holland Hill School, which has three portable classrooms, and Mill Hill School, which has five portables.
“I would ask the three members to meet as soon as possible,” school board Chairman Philip Dwyer said after the 7-0 vote. He said he would attend the committee’s first meeting to oversee the election of a chairman. “Once a chair is elected, they’ll be off and running,” he said.
Dwyer said the committee would decide how often and when to meet, and encouraged other board members to attend its meetings, but more for observation than participation. The committee, by mid-March, is supposed to “review and, if appropriate, recommend multiple revision options to the attendance boundaries of the elementary schools,” according to the committee’s mission statement.
“I don’t think anyone is in agreement that redistricting would be the end result, but we should at least look at it,” Dwyer said.
School board member John Llewellyn wanted to postpone the vote on establishing the committee to Sept. 8 because two of the three board members slated to serve on the committee — Liu-McCormack and Patten — were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
Llewellyn said Liu-McCormack and Patten should be allowed to give input, and school board member Donna Karnal said the school board had postponed votes on other issues when members were absent.
But Dwyer said he didn’t want to delay the committee’s formation. “Every delay means the committee itself cannot get started,” he said. He said he had spoken to Liu-McCormack and Patten, and “both committed to serve on the committee and neither made a comment on the proposed mission statement.”
Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly, a board member, indicated Liu-McCormack and Patten could have provided the board written comments to be read into the record. She said she didn’t think postponing the vote to establish a redistricting committee rose “to the level of previous postponements.”
The Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee is charged with presenting recommendations to the board allowing time for the panel to adopt changes to its Long Range Facilities Plan in March.
Llewellyn’s motion to postpone the vote failed on a 2-5 vote, with Llewellyn and Karnal voting in favor, and Dwyer, Convertito, Maxon-Kennelly, school board Secretary Jessica Gerber and board member Paul Fattibene voting against.
Dwyer said the school board’s bylaws don’t allow the board to commit funds to the redistricting committee and that it would be up to Superintendent of Schools David G. Title to decide if a consultant should be hired.
Title said he would discuss the potential hiring of a consultant with the redistricting committee and has a firm in mind, though he declined Tuesday to identify it. He said Cooperative Educational Services recommends a firm for work related to redistricting and that membership in CES allows a consultant to be hired at a discounted rate.
Title said later in Tuesday’s meeting that the same consultant could examine whether redistricting could bring McKinley School into compliance with the state law regarding racial balance in schools. McKinley’s enrollment remains imbalanced under state criteria.
The board on Tuesday approved a minor change to the redistricting committee’s mission statement at Fattibene’s request.
The mission statement originally said the committee would “review, and, if appropriate, recommend multiple revision options to the attendance boundaries of the elementary schools with the goal of limiting the need for construction to accommodate population needs at the elementary level.”
Fattibene said that goal seemed too restrictive and suggested it be “to efficiently and appropriately utilize school facilities for elementary school students.”
Dwyer said Fattibene’s amendment would give the redistricting committee more latitude, which Dwyer said was good. The board voted 7-0 to approve Fattibene’s revision.
None of the dozen members in the audience at Tuesday’s meeting spoke on whether a redistricting committee should be esztablished during the public comment segment of the meeting.