Parents pack Board of Education meeting on redistricting
Emotions were running high and even standing room was at a premium Tuesday night, as the Board of Education heard a report on elementary school enrollment. The board discussed two proposals that would move Frenchtown students to Middlebrook Elementary.
The meeting started with a public comment portion, where several parents who had reviewed the presentation voiced concerns. Many said the proposals were targeting certain neighborhoods, especially The Eaves apartment complex, formerly known as the Avalon Gates. Others worried the plans would potentially shift overcrowding issues from Frenchtown to Middlebrook. While Middlebrook parents said they would welcome new families, they worried students and staff would not get resources needed.
“It feels like a band-aid and not a long-term solution,” parent Kerry Malzewski said.
Other speakers disagreed with the declining enrollment projections that the proposals are based upon.
Cindy Penkoff, a District 2 Republican on the Town Council said she heard from parents all day concerning the report. Penkoff said she saw issues with both proposals.
“It’s shifting deck chairs on a sinking ship,” she said of moving students to Middlebrook.
Penkoff said that an increase in rentals and home sales also needs to be considered as potentially throwing off enrollment projections.
One speaker called the report “rigged” and thought it unfair that no one on the elementary enrollment committee lived in the Middlebrook district.
“This is a painful process,” Beth Gilman, Frenchtown PTA treasurer and District 4 Town Council member said. “There is a concern you will put us through this again in five years.”
An enrollment committee has been working for months to find ways to prevent overcrowding at Trumbull’s elementary schools, remove all portable classrooms and provide each school with classrooms for art and music. The committee was formed following higher than projected enrollment at Frenchtown this year.
Rebecca Auger and Michael Zuba of Milone and Macbroom were consultants for the committee, studying options, two of which were presented Tuesday. “Scenario A” would move 130 students from Frenchtown to Middlebrook. The students would come from a specific area of the Frenchtown district, including Avalon Gates and a few nearby neighborhoods.
The committee looked more favorably on a second option, called “Scenario D” that would take roughly 70 students, who live in The Eaves by Avalon Gates, and send them to Middlebrook. The option would also allow older students at Frenchtown to be “grandfathered in” to the school, so they wouldn’t have to move. It would lead to the crafting of a policy that would allow administrators to decide in the future whether to place Avalon Gates students at either Frenchtown or Middlebrook, based on space needs.
Both options eliminate portable classrooms at all schools and will not force special needs students to move, since that population can be especially sensitive to change.
The report also noted that kindergarten enrollment is higher than expected at Booth Hill, which concerned some parents.
Board of Education Chair Deborah Herbst, told the crowd that the board would not be voting Tuesday on either proposal. Despite a few angry outbursts from the crowd, and Herbst warning two men they would be asked to leave if they continued, the board chair said parents raised some important points that the board needed to consider. She assured parents that, no matter what solution is approved, resources would be given to schools, as needed.
“This is more than redistricting, this is about kids,” Herbst said.
Still, many in the crowd wanted answers to questions they didn't think were addressed in the report. The board directed residents to send questions to Superintendent Gary Cialfi’s office, and correspondence will be forwarded to the board members.
Parents in the crowd urged the board to set a town hall meeting, to get a chance to have their questions answered directly.
“This is far too important to be done via email,” one parent said, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
“What are you afraid of,” another resident asked.
Before adjourning the meeting, Herbst said it would be up to the superintendent to decide if or when another meeting is set.
The presentation on enrollment is available here, in the April 8 meeting packet.