Elementary school redistricting fails to win support at parents’ meeting
There were plenty of questions about why the Board of Education has established an ad hoc elementary school redistricting committee, but one thing is for sure — a majority of the parents at Tuesday’s “town hall-style” meeting want it disbanded.
The committee, which has met three times, came up with a list of eight “guiding principles” for redistricting, including maintaining established neighborhood schools, having schools at 90 percent capacity and phasing out all portable classrooms.
“No one has challenged that core upgrades are needed,” Llewellyn said, but added that while making sure all elementary schools have suitable facilities, the board must do what is “prudent” for both students and taxpayers. “When you have excess capacity in some areas, and deficiencies in others,” Llewellyn said, “you have to look at (redistricting).”
However, some board members point out that although there could be a total of 50 empty seats at a school, that doesn’t necessarily mean there would be an empty classroom.
“I myself am not a fan of redistricting for no reason,” Karnal said. “There clearly is an issue with raised costs.” Every school, she said, needs something.
“Nobody wants this,” said Pansy Road resident Matthew Hutzelmann, who is also a Democratic Board of Education candidate. “No one I’ve talked to wants this. Why are we doing this? ... It’s like civil war in Fairfield.”
Any decision on redistricting will be made by the new school board, following the November elections. Fattibene and John Convertito are not seeking re-election.
But most parents, along with other board members, instead of redistricting appeared to favor having a 504-student capacity at all elementary schools, providing flexibility when school populations in different neighborhoods fluctuate. There is also a push to renovate and expand Holland Hill School, which is next on the district’s long-term facilities plan.
“At some point, we’re going to run out of money,” Fattibene said. “You have to pace yourself with how you do renovations. I am surprised the town of Fairfield still has the ability to fund these renovations. That patience for funding the renovations may run out.”
But Pam Iacono, a former school board member and now moderator of the Representative Town Meeting, said support for the Holland Hill project has already been voiced by members of the Boards of Selectmen and Finance.
“Please stop re-inventing the wheel,” Iacono said about redistricting. “We fixed the problem. Please stick with the plan. We’re going backwards.”
The long-term plan, which has been factored into the town’s “waterfall” bonding schedule, projects when renovations should be done to the town’s schools. Elementary schools that have been renovated over the last several years include Sherman, Osborn Hill and Riverfield.
“This is not a partisan issue at all,” Iacono said.
At least one parent at the meeting said she favors redistricting. Susie Byrne said her family lives three-quarters of a mile from Dwight School, but her children are bused to Burr. “We share no borders, we don’t walk to school, not everybody gets to walk to school,” she said. “When he (Hutzelmann) says no one wants redistricting, that’s false.”
There was some confusion, even among board members, regarding the redistricting committee’s charge, and whether it is related to the school district’s requirement to fix racial imbalance at McKinley School.
While they are two separate issues, Superintendent of Schools David Title said the consultant hired to come up with proposals to address the racial imbalance issue may be considering some redistricting to correct it.
“If they’re going to propose any redistricting plan to solve racial imbalance, they need to know if it’s going to work for more than one year,” Title said. “They’ll look at capacity because in order to solve racial imbalance, they have to know what the capacities are.”
The other option for solving racial imbalance is to make McKinley some sort of magnet school, enticing parents from other local elementary districts to enroll there, Title said.
Changing school districts to solve racial imbalance is a separate issue from the redistricting supported by some of the school board, said member Jennifer Maxon-Kennelly. She said some members have “put forth that perhaps we need to redistrict for financial reasons.”
The meeting also gave Title an opportunity to put to rest rumors that Riverfield School, now that it has been renovated, will be closed and reopened as a “therapeutic day program,” or that if Mill Hill and Holland Hill renovated to have capacity for 504 students, it will open the possibility that they could have a regional enrollment from other communities.
“It’s not in the cards,” Title said.
The last school redistricting done locally was at the middle school level, after a third middle school was opened and Fairfield Woods was expanded.