Saturday, October 19, 2013

Parents, Staff Oppose Administration on Elementary Ed

Elementary school reconfiguration was the main topic of Wednesday's school board meeting.  About 200 people showed up, a result of the administration's use of Alert Now telephone network and email to inform the wider community.

The official October enrollment numbers are Moharimet 407, Mast Way 292.   Moharimet is over capacity, even with the two portable classrooms, while Mast Way has two empty classrooms.

The two options under consideration are (A) redrawing the bus dividing line and (B) changing Mast Way to grades K-2 and Moharimet to 3-4.  Option (B) was presented as a path to allowing fifth graders to move back to the elementary schools when enrollment declines sufficiently.  This is somewhat misleading -- either options allows fifth graders to be brought back eventually.

There was a certain déjà vu quality to the meeting.   In fact, the two options were considered at an almost identical meeting on April 18, 2013.  Like the first time, parents were overwhelmingly against the K-2/3-4 plan.   In fact, the opposition against this plan the first time was so widespread I was very surprised that it was once again brought up as an option.

Teaching staff present from both schools agreed with the vast majority of audience members that the bus line should be redrawn.  In contrast, the superintendent announced that he and his administration (including the assistant superintendent, special education coordinator and principals) were unanimously in favor of the K-2/3-4 option.   The board was largely non-committal but there was some support shown for both proposals. 

Since last spring I've predicted a number of times that the final solution will be the redrawing of the bus lines.  I haven't been right yet, but I'm sticking with the prediction.  I see it as very unlikely the board will go against the vast majority of the public.

The meeting started off controversially when Chairman Barth announced that staff would not be allowed to speak.  The justification was a policy that said the primary method for staff to communicate with the board was through the administration.  The board tried and failed to overrule the chairman's decision, but eventually reached a compromise where non-staff read aloud staff letters from each school.  My personal feeling was that the everyone should be afforded the opportunity to speak at a public meeting and that the Chairman was on thin ice when she suppressed the speech of staff members, many of whom are district residents.

The superintendent took the position that there was no research supporting one option over the other.  This was in contrast to some educators, especially at the first meeting, who cited research claiming that additional transitions were detrimental to learning.   Financially, there are potential economies to be had by assigning each grade to a single building.  There are costs too, for increased busing and the initial reconfiguration

The bus line could have been redrawn in time for the current school year.  The failure to do this, together with the unexpected surge in enrollment at Moharimet, have exacerbated the crowding in the multipurpose room.  The likely consequence is that taxpayers will have to cough up a half a million dollars to build a cafeteria at Mohariment.

The superintendent opposed the grandfathering of families that has occurred in the past when the bus line has been redrawn.  His justification is that the grandfathering, in which current Moharimet families can finish out at Moharimet, negates the very equalization the redrawing is meant to correct.  At this point the problem is so acute that the gradual transition that grandfathering produces is problematic.  One suggestion was to grandfather only the families of next year's 4th graders, or perhaps 3rd and 4th.

There's not much reason for me to belabor all this too long, as the meeting was widely covered.  Oy'C'mon did a great job live-blogging it on Facebook.  Foster's had an article the next day.  The superintendent's slides are available here.  You should be able to watch the meeting on YouTube soon.


  1. Thanks Dean for this....actually, the sentiment in the community I believe has flipped. There are MANY more who were in favor of the bus line redraw who are now in favor of the K-2 and 3-5 plan. Many letters this week have been sent to the board.

    1. Thanks for the note, Seth. I won't guess where current sentiment is, but I'll stand by my account as an accurate report of the meeting. I personally don't have a strong preference on this one because it appears my Mast Way third grader will be relatively unaffected either way. I am slightly partial to what I think is the most conservative approach: just redraw the line and make a policy so the line is reviewed often enough that grandfathering can work in the future. I might make a stab at some cost calculations for the K-2/3-4 option.