Under state pressure, Fairfield examines redistricting to achieve racial balance

FAIRFIELD — The Board of Education has given itself a deadline for a comprehensive redistricting plan.

At its meeting last week, the school board voted to adopt several goals, including action on a “desired comprehensive redistricting model to be utilized to resolve overcrowding and racial imbalance” by June 30, 2019.

“I think this board is going to have to make some very difficult decisions,” Superintendent of Schools Toni Jones said. “What are the priorities of the board and how are we going to approach it.”

Board member Jeffrey Peterson agreed that there was a lot of work to do, and a lot of specific questions that need to be answered. “It’s kind of important for the town to hear that,” he said.

There were questions as to whether the board has the money in its current budget to engage consultants to assist in the process.

“I think before we start spending money on a consultant and projections, this board needs to decide which direction they want to go in,” board member Nicholas Aysseh said. Are they, he said, going to use redistricting that would solve both the racial imbalance issue and overcrowding, for example.

In 2016, the board’s consultants provided several different scenarios to handle redistricting. “If the board goes in the direction of now wanting to use redistricting as the end all and be all,” Aysseh said, they could look at those earlier scenarios, “but maybe our approach is different.”

Aysseh said they need to give consultants a charge “that makes sense so we’re not getting scenarios that don’t align with what we’re thinking.”

“I want to see this board be clear on why we’re looking at redistricting,” Aysseh said.

Board member Jessica Gerber said the 2016 report is based on the number of students that were in the district at that time. “Some of those plans talked about taking 11 from Dwight to Burr, and 15 from Stratfield to Jennings,” Gerber said. “I’m not sure how viable those still are now.”

She did say the board should revisit that document to really see “what does district-wide elementary redistricting look like.” Gerber said those plans moved “very, very small groups of students. Some of those neighborhoods may have completely change. “ While it could serve as a good template to look at, Gerber said 2-year-old plans can’t be relied on. She also said those plans were predicated on Mill Hill being a 504 school, which now remains in question. “That’s just something we have to keep in mind.”

Board member Trish Pytko said in 2016 she asked a series of questions about redistricting and affordable housing projects. “Two years have passed, and we have many more of these in town,” Pytko said. “This town is reshaping where people are moving to.” She said that needs to be taken into consideration. “We have to be very careful,” Pytko said. “I don’t want to do this again in five years.”

“I think its more than redistricting you’re talking about,” Robert Smoler, president of the Fairfield Education Association said. “It’s redistricting, it’s feeder patterns, and facilities.” He said there are some older facilities in the district “and we’re patching them up as best we can. You need to take a look at what’s going to happen long term.”

greilly@ctpost.com; 203-842-2585