Consultants look to Saugatuck Elementary to balance school populations

WESTPORT — As the Board of Education continues to review ways to balance the town’s two middle school populations, consultants pointed to Saugatuck Elementary as the best fit for a split-feeder option at a BOE meeting on Tuesday.

“In our professional opinion we think Saugatuck is the most logical choice for implementing a split-feeder pattern,” said Patrick Gallagher, of Milone & Macbroom.

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The centralized location of the school in the town, it’s proximity to the two middle schools, and the ability to maintain reasonable walking distance to the middle schools all led to this conclusion, he added.

Gallgher presented two options that used the Saugatuck school as its basis. One would see 56% of fifth-graders move to Coleytown Middle School while 44% went to Bedford Middle School. The other saw slightly more students move to Coleytown at 62% while the remaining 38% moved on to Bedford.

The first option would also shift 156 students from Bedford to Coleytown if implemented in the 2019-2020 school year, whereas the second option would shift 168 students. The second option would also result in smaller peer groups for the Saugatuck students at Bedford.

The presentation comes as continued talks of equity between the two middle schools have led to discussions on redistricting. However, Gallagher noted a three-year phase-in for the proposed feeder pattern could absolve the board of having to redistrict altogether.

BOE member Karen Kleine said she favored the option over pocket redistricting, despite initial concerns of lower capacity at Bedford.

“I was originally struck by the lower capacity at BMS, but then I was thinking I wonder if there’s something we could do with those extra classrooms if we have them,” she said. “There might be something we can do with Staples. There might be some kind of shared learning maybe if we got some extra room and some extra classrooms.”

While Kleine questioned the impact of increased students at Coleytown, Assistant Superintendent Anthony Buono said he believed the school had the capacity.

“We’re going to be using the same number of classrooms that we’ve always been using,” he said. “I think there is plenty of capacity at CMS to support this.”

Still, board members again pointed to the substantial drop in student enrollment this year and how it could affect projections in the presentation. However, Gallagher said this year was an anomaly and deviated significantly from the historic patterns of the district.

“The projections assume that the growth rates are not going to reflect 2019, but rather back to what they were the previous four years,” he said, adding the BOE should still monitor enrollment moving forward.

Several residents voiced concern for Coleytown’s capacity with an increased number of students, as well as how the changes could affect teacher teams.

RTM member Harris Falk suggested the anomaly could be attributed to parents pulling their kids out of the school system, and questioned if information would be given to clarify if this was truly the case.

“We’ll know if they’re going to come back,” he said. “So all these kids who have now left are going to suddenly show up again and the numbers are assuming they’re gone.”

BOE Chair Candice Savin saod the BOE may schedule a special meeting to address the topic or change the agenda for the its Dec. 2 meeting to do so. The board has set a timeline to make a decision on redistricting by the end of the year.