Hines Sight / Start over and get it right
Published 4:40 pm, Thursday, September 16, 2010
When all was said and done around 11 p.m. Tuesday, the Board of Education had adopted a redistricting plan for the middle schools by the slimmest of margins and managed to anger a roomful of people, the majority of whom had implored members to stop, take a deep breath and start over.
Did the board listen to the public? No. Is the approved plan a good one? No. Are there still unanswered questions? Yes. Should the board take another look? Absolutely -- and while there still is time.
Option E, as it has become known, will redistribute students from eight elementary schools into the town's three middle schools, all in preparation for the opening of an expanded Fairfield Woods in 2011-12 -- making it the most disruptive of the choices.
Kery and Mitola were in lock step on the subcommittee's direction and objective, but Liu was more cautious, wanting to obtain more information before making a final decision. Kery and Mitola voted to send the Option E recommendation to the full board; Liu dissented.
Think about it: The sole option on the table for a vote Tuesday night was brought to the board by only two members. Where was the vetting process by the full nine-member board on all of the options? The subcommittee worked hard and no one means to disparage the members' effort, but the entire process was mishandled from the start.
So, you may ask, what's the point of dissecting Tuesday's action? Because I am hopeful -- and I know I am not alone -- that the board will rescind its vote and start over, using the subcommittee's work as the basis for a much more thorough and fair investigation into townwide redistricting, especially in light of the expansions at Stratfield Elementary and Fairfield Woods Middle schools and the overcrowding at the two high schools.
No more piecemeal. The community deserves much more.
Here's what went wrong this time around and how to fix it:
"¢ The board is clearly divided on which criterion outweighs others, so it is incumbent on the full board to have an in-depth discussion on this integral part of the process. Unbelievably, there was an attempt at 10 p.m. Tuesday to have a discussion -- and apparently for the first time -- on the criteria used to develop Option E and its rejected siblings. (One board member did say that there was a previous tepid try at discussing the criteria before Option E was chosen by the subcommittee but the board did not pursue it.)
"¢ The question of cost has yet to be fully answered. A quick summation that transportation for Option E and an alternative plan, which was unveiled Tuesday night by Chairwoman Sue Brand, is "cost neutral" is insufficient. The taxpaying public has no idea what affect the adopted plan will have on the budget. Superintendent David Title did not see fuel as a big enough factor to worry about and saw no clear way to quantify costs in this economic climate. Isn't that all the more reason to get a handle on what affect fuel will have on transportation costs? I don't know about you but I still pay a lot for gas, and rarely see the price go down.
"¢ Related to the issue of cost is the "grandfathering" of upper-grade middle schoolers, but neither the subcommittee nor the board has taken any action on grandfathering, which could add considerable cost. Interestingly, the subcommittee writes in its report: "The full board will need to better understand the cost/benefits of any grandfathering options to make an objective decision on how to move forward. Key considerations include determining if grandfathering options will create undue administrative burden, excessive cost burden or exacerbate the population imbalance between the middle schools."
"¢ The public -- which includes the parents and those without children in the schools -- must be brought into the discussion -- and more than just a token effort. Can it really be that the Board of Education conducted only two meetings in which to discuss a redistricting plan? Astonishingly, yes.
The board would be wise to dedicate meeting time solely to discuss redistricting.
What was the board thinking when it placed the discussion and the vote on Tuesday's agenda with 13 other items that required action and made it the last item of action for the evening? (And the board needs to get a good audio system because the one used Tuesday night was an embarrassment and inexcusable.)
Start over, do it right, get it done. Anything less is a dereliction of duty.