Herbst: 'I'm a product of redistricting'
As redistricting backlash continues among parents of students in Middlebrook and Frenchtown Elementary, First Selectman Timothy Herbst shared his perspective on the proposals.
“Redistricting is always a tough thing,” Herbst said. “No matter how hard you try to mitigate the angst, someone will be upset. You have to develop a redistricting plan that has the least amount of impact, eliminates portable classrooms, and over time, phases out art and music on a cart.”
Herbst said one plan presented April 8 and labeled “Scenario D” by consultants Milone & MacBroom meets those requirements. It would move roughly 30 to 40 current students at Frenchtown to Middlebrook, and send 30 to 35 new students, who have not yet started at Frenchtown, to Middlebrook. In total, about 70 to 75 students would be redistricted.
At last week’s meeting, one concern parents raised was that the proposal targets only students who live in the high-density apartments The Eaves, formerly known as Avalon Gates. Many parents were also upset that the redistricting burden was falling on only two elementary schools.
While there has been no vote on redistricting, the enrollment committee looked more favorably on Scenario D, since the impact was smaller and it still met the goals of removing portable classrooms, keeping special education students in place and not exceeding class size. The plan would also allow third and fourth grade students to be “grandfathered” in at Frenchtown.
One aspect of Scenario D, that parents worried could open the town up to lawsuits, is that a policy would be drafted allowing administrators to choose whether students living at The Eaves will attend Middlebrook or Frenchtown, based on future enrollment numbers.
Herbst’s mother, Deborah Herbst, is the chairman of the Board of Education. Deborah Herbst and two other members of the board have served as school principals during school redistricting, the first selectman said.
“I am a product of redistricting — I went from Middlebrook to Jane Ryan,” the first selectman said. “The irony is my mother was probably one of those parents speaking at the Board of Education meeting. But she’s also gone through redistricting as a principal and now a board chair."
Herbst said that the members of the board understand the importance of creating a plan that is not a Band-Aid approach, as many parents fear.
“We understand that change is not easy,” Herbst said. “Kids are not furniture.”
Following last week’s meeting on enrollment and redistricting, parents continue to call for a public forum.
Parents have been advised to send concerns to Superintendent Gary Cialfi’s office, and many say their concerns aren’t being addressed. Steven Perlah forwarded one such letter to The Times last week, following the April 8 meeting.
“ I want to make it clear that I am not against redistricting, I am not opposed to goals of the committee and the Administration,” Perlah said. “I am, however, very disappointed in the information we have received, the lack of transparency and the steamrolling and dismissive approach of last night’s proceedings.”
Perlah questioned whether any “out of the box” solutions had been considered, including moving to a K-2 and 3-5 model.
“Finally, I would like to know what you, Dr. Ciafli and the Board plan to do about the shortcomings in performance at Middlebrook,” Perlah wrote. “As I am sure you are well aware, Middlebrook fell 40 or so places this year in the CMT’s to 145th in the state. This is by far the worst in the town. Daniel’s Farm is next at 98th. What are you going to do about this? What changes are in store?”
Another parent, Scott Kokosa, like many other parents, is pushing for a public forum on redistricting.
“ One of the biggest concerns is that we have not been provided the opportunity to ask questions and discuss this very serious decision collectively,” Kokosa wrote. “We, as parents and citizens, are requesting this to be scheduled immediately as a Town Hall meeting between the Board of Education, the superintendent and the population of Trumbull at large. Further, we request that this Town Hall event be held prior to any BOE redistricting votes and prior to the Town Council budget vote, which is currently scheduled for Tuesday, April 22.”
The first selectman, like the Board of Education, said the decision to set a public forum will be in the hands of Superintendent Cialfi. Herbst said he hopes that if a public forum is held, it’s not a “lynch mob.”
“I think a public forum can work if people want to have a conversation,” he said.
For more information on what is proposed, Trumbull Public Schools has posted an elementary enrollment analysis, last week’s presentation, and alternatives considered at Trumbullps.org.