Westport school board reconsiders redistricting scenarios

WESTPORT — With the pressure to make a best-fit educational model while staying fiscally responsible, the Board of Education has now questioned if the current redistricting scenarios are the best options.

“We have looked at a lot of options here and we had a couple of people on the board and in the community that have said hey, let’s take a step back,” BOE Chair Mark Mathias said at a Monday meeting.

BOE member Candice Savin again voiced her displeasure that a clear direction has not been given by administration. The constant discussion of various scenarios that may or may not be feasible has also caused discomfort in the community, she claimed.

“I really am looking for a recommendation and not further scenarios,” she said. “I feel that we keep putting out scenarios that don’t serve the district well and thus frustrates everyone.”

However, interim Superintendent David Abbey noted redistricting is not an easy decision or discussion.

“If we’re going to do this in public and we’re going to be transparent we’re going to have bumps along the way,” Abbey said.

He expressed the board had handcuffed the administration in its ability to make a decision after the latest redistricting scenarios yielded educational issues, traffic problems and more.

“My sense is to continue to go down this path, which is unsatisfactory educationally and is disruptive is a fool’s errand,” he said. “I think the board and the administration needs to go back and take a look at the guiding principals and see if they are, in fact, in the best interest of this process.”

Savin felt the board made a mistake when it decided early in the process to not look at a split-feeder pattern model. Now, with more information, she said the administration should at least be allowed to see if it’s viable.

“It would allow us to keep our middle schools balanced, it would allow us to run our preferred teaming models, it would leave our elementary schools in tact,” she said. “No one would need to be moved.”

BOE Member Vik Muktavaram voiced frustration with some of the process before outlining his own redistricting analysis in a presentation.

“I don’t like any of the scenarios being presented today,” Muktavaram said, adding all of the previously proposed scenarios were disruptive to families.

For his analysis, Muktavaram focused on redistricting 50 students instead of 100, which he said could help achieve two four-teacher teams at Coleytown Middle School and three at Bedford Middle School. He also proposed a phased-in approach to redistricting for families.

“What I mean by that is we essentially grandfather in all the existing families so that we don’t touch any of the currently enrolled students,” Muktavaram said. “We do this on a going-forward basis applying it to newer families that move into certain areas that have proximity to both CMS and BMS bus routes.”

Board members thanked Muktavaram for his work, but some questioned the loose guidelines around redistricting for newer families, as well as potential costs.

“I would like to end up with clear lines on whatever we decide,” BOE member Elaine Whitney said. “I’m afraid of potential transportation costs, traffic costs and also potential disintegration of the local community and the neighborhood piece of it.”

Abbey said he would further review Muktavaram’s proposal and the outcomes of a split-feeder pattern for one or more schools.

The education board is expected to receive Abbey’s update at its Oct. 21 meeting.