Dreaded 'R' word: School officials mull redistricting for cost savings
The often-controversial issue of redistricting arose at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting as board members reviewed proposed revisions to a Long Range Facilities Plan that calls for the renovation and expansion of Holland Hill and Mill Hill schools.
Superintendent of Schools David G. Title said although the facilities plan calls for Holland Hill and Mill Hill to each be expanded to a bricks-and-mortar capacity of 504 students, by reducing the proposed capacities to better reflect 10-year enrollment projections at those schools, a total of $2.4 million could be saved.
Title said expanding Holland Hill to a capacity of 462 students would save nearly $800,000 (from $9.96 million to $9.17 million), while expanding Mill Hill to a capacity of 441 students would save $1.675 million (from $15 million to $13.3 million.) He said the peak projected enrollment at Holland Hill over the next 10 years is 438 students and that Mill Hill's enrollment, now 413 students, is projected to remain flat over the next 10 years.
"You have to leave yourself with a little head room because you're going to get one chance at this," Title said in explaining why the two elementary schools' capacities under the proposed, scaled-down expansions would exceed their 10-year peak enrollment projections.
Title added the proposed expansions at Holland Hill and Mill Hill were designed primarily to eliminate portable classrooms. Mill Hill has five portable classrooms and a bricks-and-mortar capacity of 378 students, and Holland Hill has three portable classrooms and a bricks-and-mortar capacity of 315 students.
Title said the school district had made a commitment to reduce portable classrooms at schools. In 2002, the district had 61 portables and now has 15, according to school officials.
The current "room deficiencies" in each of the schools, which classify portable classrooms as room deficiencies, were identified as 11.5 for Mill Hill and nine at Holland Hill, according to a document reviewed by the school board. "A portable by definition is a deficiency. Five of the 11.5 (at Mill Hill School) are deficiencies due to portables," Title said.
School board member Eileen Liu-McCormack said three schools in town have a total excess capacity of 270 students -- Burr Elementary has room for another 100 students, Dwight School has room for another 50 students and Riverfield School has room for another 120 students. "I'm just wondering how we use it best. ... Can we re-allocate and focus the money on renovating schools?" she asked. "That's what I struggle with."
Title said what Liu-McCormack was suggesting would require a redistricting plan, which, he added, would take a long time.
School board Vice Chairman John Covertito said, "I am not opposed to looking at redistricting knowing we have excess capacity. ... It will not be an easy task, but I think we owe it to the community to look at all issues."
Referring to the comments by Liu-McCormack and Convertito, Title said, "We have a subcommittee ready to be formed."
Philip Dwyer, the school board's chairman, said, "That comes with an obligation to stay on the board."
Board member Marc Patten said for the last two years he has said he did not want to "go anywhere near the `R' word," but is less sure about that now. He said if redistricting had to be revisited, "I guess I'm your third member of your subcommittee."
The early talk about a potential redistricting didn't mean work at Holland Hill and Mill Hill schools would no longer be needed, Convertito said. He said his comment about not being opposed to looking at redistricting came "with the caveat that both Holland Hill and Mill Hill need core improvements." Redistricting would merely be a way of reducing the cost of the projects at those schools.
The school board didn't decide whether Mill Hill or Holland Hill should be the next school to undergo a renovation and expansion, which was the topic of discussion at an earlier meeting. Dwyer said the last school board-approved Long Range Facilities Plan had listed Holland Hill as the next major project. He said the timeline for approving a revised facilities plan would call for a vote by board members in May or June.
Jessica Gerber, the board's secretary, said it would be helpful if all board members toured both schools before voting on revisions to the facilities plan. "I've been to both, and they both are operating under very difficult circumstances," she said.
Title said, "We're certainly open to that at any time."