Redistricting is now a reality.
The Board of Education, at its regular meeting on Wednesday, April 24, unanimously approved a plan that will redraw district lines, accomplishing educators’ goals of easing overcrowding at Elizabeth Shelton School and giving each building an equal amount of specialty rooms, such those for as art and music.
The vote came 24 hours after a special Board of Education meeting, at which many parents, while agreeing that redistricting was needed, asked that the final decision be delayed until more investigation was done into what would be the best option.
Board members voted for "scenario 5," which, after some tweaks from its earlier design presented last month, would move 109 kindergarten through grade 3 students from Long Hill and Elizabeth Shelton schools and spread them among Mohegan, Long Hill and Elizabeth Shelton schools. Sunnyside School and Booth Hill School are not part of redistricting in scenario 5.
For scenario 5, Milone & MacBroom consultants did not add any more bus routes. Student impacts will entail moving 24 students from Long Hill School to Elizabeth Shelton School, with 83 total students moving from Elizabeth Shelton School, with 27 going to Long Hill School and 56 to Mohegan School. Two students from Long Hill School will also move to Mohegan School.
This plan has Route 108 serving 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.
“We are fully committed to making sure all children are welcomed and feel embraced when they come to their new school,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chris Clouet.
Board member David Gioiello said redistricting for him had two primary objectives — reducing the number of students at Elizabeth Shelton School and doing so by moving as few students as possible, to make sure bus route times were not adversely extending.
“Scenario 5 did the best job in meeting my objectives,” said Gioiello. “The one thing I am sad about is that the two hearings we had raised the expectations of the parents, when in reality, we were never going to meet their concerns.
“[Parents] had individual concerns, valid concerns, but we as a board had to look at the whole picture,” added Gioiello. “We have to look at all the kids and look at what’s best for all of them. Public hearing gave people a glimmer of hope, but in reality, we hired pros, and we would have been foolish not to take their advice.”
Board member Dr. Darlisa Ritter thanked the parents who emailed, texted and called to offer their thoughts.
“I want you to know we heard your concerns and, for the most part I agree with them totally,” said Ritter. “I was pleased to recognize the fact that parents, even though they all had concerns, all recognized that redistricting is needed.”
Residents at the Tuesday, April 23, meeting specifically on redistricting asked why vote now when the city budget — which will see limited or no increase from the present year in the 2019-20 school budget — has not been finalized. School officials admit the final budget will affect the number of staff eliminated.
Clouet said that since the city budget, by charter, is not completed until the end of May, voting to redistrict at that point would not allow school administrators time to contact the families affected and schedule events to welcome children to their new schools.
“We already have overcrowding and a lack of equity (in the number of rooms) with the K-4 schools. That’s already there. It is unfair and needs to be changed,” said Clouet. “We won’t have enough time to prepare properly if we start after the Board of Aldermen’s appropriation (in late May).”
Elizabeth Shelton School Principal Beverly Belden, speaking during the board’s public comment portion of the agenda Wednesday, April 24, said she been at the school for 14 years, and the amount of strain on the building and the students is “great.”
Belden said this plan gives school staff an ability to have class sizes more on par with other schools in the district. And while she acknowledged the difficulty of moving students to new schools, Belden said staff throughout the district has always worked together to do what is right for the children.
What is driving redistricting
Last month, the Board of Education was presented with six alternatives, however, 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.
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, perhaps, according to Milone & MacBroom consultants, meaning the 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 median model, 4,803 students, for its planning purposes.
In the 10-year projections, Mohegan School is projected to have the largest growth, by some 20%, in enrollment during the first five years. Elizabeth Shelton School is projected to increase prior to returning to 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 use 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 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 occupying,” said Augur.
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 — should 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 said. “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 more than 90% functional capacity, so that educators have flexibility in case of unexpected increases in enrollment down the road.
brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com