By Jay Cook |
MIDDLETOWN – A proposal to redistrict over 500 students among nine Middletown schools was unanimously shot down by the Board of Education on Monday evening after hundreds of visibly outraged and distraught parents came out to squash the plan before it got off the ground.
The plan sought to address overcrowding at three of the district’s 17 schools, which Middletown Superintendent of Schools William O. George III, Ed.D, said could lead to negative impacts on educational spaces, class scheduling and co-curricular activities. It was designed by an ad hoc committee comprised of George, board president Danielle Walsh, board vice president John Little, and school district administration and community members.
But the plan was met by intense resistance, including from some members of the board.
“The plan that was presented to us tonight rips apart the core of Middletown, which consists of 12 villages,” board member James Cody said after making a motion to kill the proposal mid-meeting. “If we proceed with this plan, it will start to break up our villages that make Middletown unique.”
Over 650 residents dressed in different shades and varieties of red garb packed Middletown High School North’s auditorium to see the draft presentation and put their comments on the record.
George said while student enrollments are trending down, overcrowding is an issue at Nut Swamp Elementary School, Thompson Middle School and Middletown High School South.
According to enrollment tallies taken over two weeks ago, Nut Swamp is 73 students over capacity; Thompson has 258 more students than it can handle; and Middletown South has 90 students too many. According to a report by T&M Associates, tasked with analyzing the redistricting, 573 students would have been shifted throughout the township to different schools to address the capacity issues.
Using geocoding methods with specific student enrollment information, T&M planner Stanley Slachetka said he was looking at “changing boundary lines at specific geographic points, whether it’s a street edge or railroad right of way.”
When the public session commenced, more than 50 parents and students immediately lined up to speak. Parents with students in the affected schools did not hold back when speaking their piece to board members.
“I want to reiterate that my children are not ‘geodots.’ The children who are sitting in here are not ‘geodots,’ ” said Ivan Mendez, a father with three children attending Middletown Village Elementary School. “They’re not points on a map you can shift around at whim to try and meet your numbers.”
Mendez, who said he worked with the New York City Department of Education, said Middletown’s redistricting lacked focus.
“I have never in my career seen a decision of this magnitude made with so little community input,” he said.
Former Board of Education member Vinnie Brand also questioned the necessity of the proposal.
“I have to tell you, this is a bad plan,” Brand said. “I put four children through Thompson Middle School, 12 years of education, and never once did I hear a kid tell me that school was overcrowded – and two of them are chronic complainers.”
Bill Tufaro, a Middletown resident of over two decades now living in the Harmony Glen development, said he spoke on behalf of 30 students who could be shifted if the plan was initiated.
“Redistricting is a decision that should be made by the community,” he said. “If it benefits the children, it’s important to consider their well-being. We all want our children to be happy in familiar environments and perform at their best.”
As the three-and-a-half-hour meeting concluded, Cody’s initial motion to scrap the current redistricting plan and look to alternative solutions to ease overcrowding issues was seconded and unanimously passed by the nine-member board. Notably, Walsh and Little, who helped construct the proposal, joined in. The decision was met with rousing cheers by elated parents.
Board of Education members expressed willingness to look at trailers, pods and other temporary methods to help alleviate overcrowding in those affected schools.
“We have to come up with a plan that is sustainable and that is reasonable,” said board member Leonora Caminiti. “We will do that. I promise you that.”
This article was first published in the Nov. 2-9, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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