Shelton school redistricting: Preliminary options raise concerns

The black line shows the districts as presently constituted. The colors show what the district would look like in this specific scenario. These scenarios are only preliminary at this time.

A school redistricting plan is not near final, but that did not stop residents from voicing concerns over the current options — each of which would move some 100 students to a new school.

More than 100 residents attending an informational meeting Tuesday in Shelton Intermediate School’s auditorium were presented with three preliminary plans, as well as details on 10-year enrollment projections and building usage data, with hopes of creating an equitable balance of students and programs at each elementary school.

“Redistricting is something that is sure to make some people less happy than others,” Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet said in his opening. “There is no way around it. Redistricting is not a perfect process. Redistricting is not something that will make every member of the community thrilled with the outcome. But we have some overcrowding in some of our schools, and we have to make some adjustments.”

Tuesday was also the first time Board of Education members saw the potential district changes, so Clouet said he expects “tweaks” to the preliminary plans. Milone & MacBroom consultants will also be refining the scenarios, including a more precise transportation impact assessment.

The Board of Education, with Milone & MacBroom consultants present, will hold its next workshop on Tuesday, April 23, with Clouet telling the audience a final vote could come Wednesday, April 24. All the preliminary maps are available to view at https://tinyurl.com/SheltonSchools.

“I am not anticipating widely radical changes, but there will be some changes,” Clouet told the audience. “But let’s not forget, if you are in a school that overcrowded, that’s an unhappy situation, too.”

Six alternatives were prepared. Only three — scenarios 4, 5 and 6 — were considered the most optimal, according to Milone & MacBroom consultants, when holding to four specific criteria:

• Adhering to a “standard room deployment” across elementary schools to “equalize program delivery;”

• Better balancing utilization across the elementary schools;

• Minimizing disruptions to neighborhoods; and

• Providing options to the Board of Education.

Scenario 4 would move 103 current kindergarten through third grade students from Long Hill, Mohegan and Elizabeth Shelton schools to Booth Hill, Elizabeth Shelton and Mohegan schools. In this scenario, Route 108 would serve as a natural boundary between Elizabeth Shelton and Mohegan school districts. In this plan, Mohegan School is projected to be near capacity (97% utilization) within five years, and Long Hill School would be considered be underutilized.

Scenario 5 would move 109 kindergarten through third grade students from Long Hill and Elizabeth Shelton schools and spread them among Mohegan, Long Hill and Elizabeth Shelton schools. Again, Route 108 would serve as the natural boundary between Elizabeth Shelton and Mohegan schools. In this scenario, all the schools are projected to stay at or below “target” utilization in the first five years. Mohegan may exceed utilization targets, according to the consultants, but not capacity (440), in the long term.

Finally, scenario 6 would move 103 kindergarten through third grade students from Long Hill, Mohegan and Elizabeth Shelton schools and spread them through Mohegan, Long Hill and Elizabeth Shelton schools. For this scenario, Route 108 and Soundview Avenue serve as natural boundaries between Elizabeth Shelton and Mohegan schools. With this plan, all schools are projected to stay at or below “target” utilization in the first five years of the 10-year enrollment projections. Mohegan School remains closer to utilization targets than in scenario 5, and Elizabeth Shelton Schools would have slightly higher utilization rates but within the target maximum for the next nine years.

Sunnyside School is not touched in any of these three scenarios. Booth Hill School would not be part of redistricting in scenarios 5 and 6.

Overall, Shelton’s total school enrollment has decreased 14% over the past decade, but only 4% over the past five years. There was a slight increase in 2018-19 enrollment, with 4,730 students, up from 4,641 the previous school year. That could mean, according to Milone & MacBroom, that enrollment reached its plateau last year.

The enrollment projections over the next 10 years, considering housing trends and demographics, display relatively stability over the next five years, ranging from a 1.7% decrease to 0.6% increase. The next five years vary, depending on the model used, and could range from a high of 4,915 to a low of 4,653. Milone & MacBroom used the medium model, 4,803 students, for its planning purposes.

In the 10-year projections, Mohegan School is projected to have the largest growth, some 20%, in enrollment during the first five years. Elizabeth Shelton School is projected to increase prior to returning to the current level in four to five years. Long Hill and Sunnyside schools are projected to slightly decline in enrollment during the first five years.

Rebecca Augur of Milone & MacBroom said, through work with administrators and school facilities personnel, it was determined that the current facilities as used demonstrate “inequities in standard program delivery,” meaning not all schools have the same number of specials — art, music and technology — and “other” classrooms — used for special education and academic support — available. For example, Mohegan School has six “other” rooms, while Booth Hill, Elizabeth Shelton and Long Hill schools all have four.

“There are general inequities in how you are providing programming to students across the buildings in terms of the way you are occupying the space,” Augur said.

With that, along with directives from the school administration, Milone & MacBroom prepared a “standard room deployment,” which assumes each school having at least five designated rooms.

All schools — except Sunnyside School — are expected to have one art, one music and one academic support room. Sunnyside School would have music and art share a classroom due to staffing. Each school would have two special education rooms (with one of Sunnyside School’s special education rooms also for district programming), and Elizabeth Shelton and Long Hill schools would have one district program room, which already exist.

Under this deployment, Mohegan School would also have five such rooms, with only two designated for the pre-kindergarten program, housed in the school presently with use of three classrooms. Augur said that administrators have discussed leaving two pre-K rooms at Mohegan School but moving the third.

“There is no final decision at this point, but we are considering reorganizing how we offer pre-K education,” Clouet told the Shelton Herald Wednesday. “There are a variety of options we are considering.”

Using a 22-student class size and assuming the preliminary standard room deployment plan, Milone & MacBroom consultants calculated a functional capacity — instructional rooms available — percentage. Under those calculations, Elizabeth Shelton School is operating at 97% capacity, while Mohegan School is at 63% (not factoring in the pre-K students). The remaining three sit between 85% and 87%.

Augur said that the plan would be to have no school at more than 90% functional capacity, so that educators have flexibility in case of unexpected increases in enrollment down the road.

Resident concerns

Residents raised concerns about why the district appears to be acting so quickly, how educators plan to handle potential emotional issues with children related to a move, and how potentially impending budget cuts would impact the class sizes.

“I’m concerned because it feels like redistricting is one issue, and the budget is a separate issue,” said resident Jessica Sciamanna. “I feel they are very intertwined. How do you make decisions about redistricting when don’t know your budget is? I don’t understand.”

Clouet said if the district waits too long, those parents of children impacted would not receive letters about school changes until the summer, removing hopes of integrating the students into the new school in May and June of this school year.

Sciamanna responded that “maybe now is not the right time if we have no money.”

“Right now, we have schools that are overcrowded, and that is an inequitable situation,” said Clouet. “You are presenting part of the complexity. In my opinion, I would tell the board that taking no action is not necessarily fair to the kids or good for the district in the long run.”

One resident asked if the redistricting was being driven by budgetary concerns.

“No, it is driven by equity and the overcrowding in some schools and potential capacity issues in some schools,” responded Clouet. “We’re trying to do the best we can with limited resources. I wish I could say more money coming.”

One resident said that, with all the student movement, it appears that more children are being moved into Elizabeth Shelton School, which is considered overcrowded.

“At the end of the day, this is about reducing the student body at Elizabeth Shelton,” said Clouet.

Other parents voiced concern about transportation, and how long students would be on buses under any new redistricting plan.

“Remember, Shelton is one of largest geographic communities in Connecticut. We are not trying to expand bus times, but there will still be travel time,” said Clouet.

Another resident identified scenario 6 as the most positive plan, since, at Mohegan School, the amount of students is least likely to hit that threshold maximum over the 10 year period.

“That means the district would not have to redistrict again in five years, which I think would be optimal for parents in the long term,” she said. “I don’t think any parent in this room wants to go through this again.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com