Westport school board to hold off redistricting
WESTPORT — After months of discussion, the Board of Education unanimously voted to hold off on redistricting for at least the next school year.
The Monday vote came after talks on balancing the town’s middle school populations came to a head when two consultants reported different enrollment projections. The discrepancy caused board members to reconsider whether redistricting was needed.
Parents in attendance for the Monday meeting again argued against redistricting, with many directly opposing a proposed split-feeder option at Saugatuck Elementary School.
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“I urge you to consider taking it off the table permanently,” said Rebecca Oren, a parent of two children at Saugatuck Elementary.
Oren also proposed allowing Saugatuck parents to choose to send their children to Coleytown Middle School if they want to.
“It may not be as hard as we think to let people even it out on their own,” she said. “Making that an easier process may make your job easier down the road.”
A tuition option for children coming from outside the district could financially make up some of the deficit that is predicted to come with declining enrollment, she added.
Several parents echoed Oren’s comments, with many also asking for an advisory committee to be established when redistricting is brought up again. Some said a committee with experts could help dive further into future proposed options.
“I think everyone here believes the schools are the biggest asset we have in our town and we want them treated that way,” said Dave Greely, a Westport parent. “We know it’s tight budget years, but it’s something we’re investing in, not just a line item to be cut.”
Greely noted the difficulties that may come in this year’s budget, and proposed the Board of Finance baseline the education board’s budget to where it was prior to the closure of Coleytown Middle School.
“I think baselining it to this year when we’ve shrunk teams in order to cram everybody in one school is unfair to the quality of the education,” he said.
While the BOE was unanimous in its plan to delay redistricting, they were initially split on voting Monday or its scheduled date of Dec. 16.
Finance board member Sheri Gordon suggested waiting until Dec. 16, when the BOF and other funding bodies would be in attendance. She added there were pieces of information that still haven’t been addressed — while Coleytown is on schedule to open in August 2020, construction will continue through November.
“I truly wonder if the community feels comfortable with their kids going to school in a building that’s still under construction,” Gordon said. “I don’t think that’s been addressed.”
She stressed the importance of the BOE considering all options when addressing the unbalanced middle school populations.
After a failed amendment to delay the decision until next week, the board unanimously voted to revert to traditional attendance zones at Bedford and Coleytown middle schools for the 2020-2021 school year. The decision includes having three four-teacher teams at Bedford and two four-teacher teams at Coleytown.
BOE Chairman Candice Savin said the top priority has always been the education delivered to children, adding when redistricting conversations started the community may not have had tolerance due to dealing with the recent closure of Coleytown.
“Things may have changed. Maybe now we do have the tolerance for that type of discussion,” Savin said. “That’s why I’m thinking of this as a short-term plan, and the need to develop a long-term plan that is looking at our facilities more holistically.”