Protests fail to derail Fairfield middle school redistricting
The Fairfield Board of Education, despite protests that a decision on a redistricting plan was being rushed, voted 5-4 late Tuesday to adopt a new "feeder" pattern assigning students to the town's three middle schools.
The plan, so-called "Option E," was recommended to the board by its Facilities, Technology and Long Range Planning Subcommittee. With the option's approval, the changes are slated to take effect in the next academic year.
Many speakers from the crowd Tuesday called Option E the most disruptive of the several redistricting plans the subcommittee considered. However, the subcommittee favored Option E because, among other reasons, it did not split students from one elementary school among the middle schools.
Middlebrook Drive resident Jillian Shaffer said if board members couldn't devise a better redistricting plan, they should "hire some people that can or get off the board."
She added, "People don't need to go to high school with every single person they went to elementary school with."
Board Chairman Sue Brand at the meeting presented a new plan that would have created a "singleton" school (Burr Elementary School, whose students would all advance together to the middle and high school levels), and changed the middle school assignments for students at four schools, not eight, as in Option E. Brand's proposal emphasized the neighborhood school concept and would have increased the number of students who walked to school. The high school feeder pattern was also an integral part of the her proposal, whereas Option E disregards the elementary and high school levels. Brand's proposal provided for no change to the high school feeder pattern for one to two years, but after that, would have better balanced the populations at the two high schools.
Superintendent of Schools David Title, some time later in the meeting, was asked what the educational impact would be from moving students as proposed under both plans.
"Obviously, moving eight schools (Option E) is more disruptive than moving four (Brand's proposal), but if the price you pay is a singleton moving to a high school, then you don't have a group of kids with their peers. That creates another educational problem."
Board member Paul Fattibene said he wasn't completely supportive of Option E or Brand's proposal.
"I think we can do better," he said shortly before making a motion to postpone a decision on Option E. Tim Kery and fellow subcommittee member John Mitola said sending the options back to committee would be basically pointless.
Mitola said no matter what redistricting plan is approved, there will be some people who are dissatisfied. Member Perry Liu, who cast the lone no vote when the subcommittee approved the redistricting option by a 2-1 vote last summer, said he would be willing to try again to come up with a more palatable plan, but the motion to postpone a vote failed by a tally of 5-4.
Brand said Tuesday night was only the second meeting of the full board at which redistricting was discussed. She added the full board had not prioritized the criteria that guided the subcommittee's recommendation on redistricting. The board then considered a new discussion of those criteria, but ultimately decided against it.
Not long after, the board approved Option E by the 5-4 majority. The nay votes came from Sue Dow, Fattibene, Liu and Brand.
Brand was disappointed the board didn't allow more time for her proposal to be digested.
"It's a body of nine. Majority rules," she said Wednesday. "All you can do is bring to the table what you think is best."
Title, asked Wednesday which was the better plan -- Option E or Brand's proposal -- said, "If you believe the most important criteria are not splitting an elementary school, not creating a singleton and not changing the high school feeder pattern, as the subcommittee said, then Option E is the best choice. But if you believe these criteria are not the most important, then other options are equally viable."