Saturday, July 20, 2024

School Redistricting


Special Meeting of the Board of Education

Redistricting Implementation Still Unresolved

The Special Meeting of the Board of Education was called to order by Board Chair Mike Henrick at 8:15 on Wednesday, June 12th. The first topic was approval of a one-year food service management contract renewal with Sodexo that includes an increase of 3.9% management and administrative fees, pending required approval by the State of Connecticut.

Board Chair Henrick then stated, “The next item will move to approve the use of the district FY24 unexpended funds up to $1 million for the cost of the implementation of State-mandated Science of Reading Program. By using the funds we’ll overall save about $800,000 on our expenses that would be in our future budget so it’s a good way to use those funds. Any other discussion? There being none we’ll take the vote.” It passed unanimously.

Henrick then introduced the subject of redistricting, and the plans designed by SLAM. (SLAM, The S/L/A/M Collaborative, is a Glastonbury-based consulting firm hired to develop the new elementary school boundaries. Please see the May 24, 2024 edition of the Stratford Crier for more complete details on these plans.)

“What I’d like to do, what I was hoping to do today is to narrow it down to one selection. The impression I got from a lot of people there were concerns about scenario three, but I think scenario one seems to be the most favorable, and I’d like to narrow it down so as we move forward, we have a special meeting where we invite the council and the mayor to come get a full presentation from SLAM, and also to have a public forum at Johnson House where they will have the opportunity to make comments. In the past we just had a lot of questions, but so we can hear the comments, the concerns, but they’ll be able to actually speak to us. But I think it would be much more productive if we can narrow it down to one so we’re not kind of throwing darts at the board and unsure which way we’re going to go.”

Bill O’Brien spoke: “So you’re not saying we’re voting to approve one, we’re just [making] a favorable recommendation.”

Mike Henrick: “I would like to make a motion to narrow it down to one. There’s still some financing on how we’ll tweak it and how we’ll adjust it, and how it’ll be implemented. Those are the questions. I think that’s the direction SLAM is looking for from us, to narrow it down to one so that they can narrow it down to one.”

Chris Cormier: “I have a concern with going out with one proposal. We pretty much narrowed it down to two, and we’ve all spoken, and that’s pretty much what the town, what our constituents believe. My concern is we’ve not given anyone a chance to ask us questions about those two proposals. They have been able to ask how information was received or put together by the representatives from SLAM, but I believe you yourself promised our voters, our people, our taxpayers the chance to speak to us and give us their impressions. And I know you said that at Stratford High. I wasn’t at the one at Flood, but I know you said that to them at Stratford High. So narrowing it down to one tonight I’m very uncomfortable with, because that’s not what we promised the town.

Heather Borges: Obviously, I support whatever decision this board decides to make, but from the perspective of the central office team for the planning purposes, the questions that are coming out of the public forums are questions about whether or not we’re going to have anything grandfathered in, what waivers are we going to do, how are we going to roll out the plan. We can’t answer those if we’re looking at two plans. The number of students impacted in each plan is different, and I really feel they want some specific answers so that they can know how the impacts may happen. Even if you narrowed it to one, you still have all next year to adjust number one or number three—whatever one you voted on, you would have the entire year to adjust, based on your community feedback. It’s really difficult to get community feedback when there’s two separate populations impacted with each plan, and it’s really difficult for Pam (Pamela Mangini, COO of Stratford Public Schools) and I to be able to give you exact numbers of this plan. It could be rolled out over two years because it wouldn’t cost us a million dollars for transportation, or this plan could. For us to do that for both of those plans would be a tremendous amount of extra work, so I’m just, from the standpoint of the planning and the whole point of taking all next year to really figure out how we’re going to roll it out, I do think it would be more effective and efficient if there was one plan we were working on to roll out.

Kristen Bedell: I also think that the one plan is a basic framework, and we have to decide going forward on implementing it, how the devil is in the details, you know.

Mike Henrick: But to Mr. Cormier’s point, too, when we scheduled both of those public forums they were opportunities for the public to ask questions, and that’s why we scheduled them, that’s why we did the presentation, that’s why we set aside an unlimited amount of time for anybody who attended to ask those questions. We’ve gotten a few emails…

Jill D’Angelo-Powers: Just a few things to Heather’s point. She said that they were asking questions specifically to those things, but that’s what we guided them to do, only ask questions, not to give impact or opinion. So I think that’s really important, that we reach out to the rest of the community and allow them the opportunity to voice those concerns before we make the vote, because afterwards it would be just what we traditionally have been doing and rushing a vote to determine a scenario, and then listening to the community about their frustrations and that’s just a pattern that we continue to do. Second, I haven’t seen any of the email questions, so I’m curious if we can all be forwarded those questions so we can see what the community has to say about these plans. I know there was a superintendent link that Heather had posted at both the two meetings that people can direct their questions to. So I think that should be shared with all of us before we make a vote because that’s important. We need to hear from the people and what their concerns are before we make a vote. It’s our job to make sure we’re making those educational votes for our community and for the future of Stratford. This is not just a plan that’s going to affect one year or two years. We’re hoping that this is something that’s going to start to correct some of the wrongs that we’ve done in the past for years to come.

Heather Borges: I apologize and I should have probably gotten any of those out to you ahead of time, knowing this was on here, but Teresa has compiled all of those and she will get those out to you immediately. They are going into one location. …. We have ten emails.

Mike Henrick: Ten emails. Can you give us just a synopsis?

Heather Borges: They’re all really revolving around grandfathering, waivers and exceptions. That is the largest concern, as we knew it would be because if you are proposing a plan and we say we’re going to roll it out slowly, that impacts less families. If we say we’re going to roll it out all at once next year, that impacts more families, and families are wondering if my child is in sixth grade, and they know in fifth grade going into sixth they’re supposed to now change elementary schools and they’ve been at this elementary school for this many years, will we be grandfathered in to stay there? We have questions regarding current waivers that are approved. Do all waivers get revoked and everyone goes back to their base school? So there’s a lot of questions specific to the roll out, which is what you will be working on next year.

Mike Henrick: So the emails, and emails I’ve gotten are the same. I think one was on implementation, it wasn’t on framework of the plan and transportation. Yeah, transportation, but that’s part of the implementation, and again, most of the questions and concerns at the public forums where they ask questions were in regard to scenario three, where they talk about busing all those kids from Johnson all the way to Chapel and, you know, how we go around that. But, so, anyway, I’d like to move forward with one, you know, that we select, move it down to one scenario.

Bill O’Brien: The only two emails I’ve received, people were concerned that we’re rushing into this in September, so they’re very happy to hear it’s going to be a slow process. We didn’t have a big turn out at Flood, but the people there did ask good questions, and between you and SLAM they were happy with the answers, I think. If you didn’t know the answer you said you would get the answers.

Lisa Carroll-Fabian: To Mr. O’Brien’s point, this isn’t going to go into effect until the ’25-’26 school year, so I don’t understand pushing it to one scenario without giving the whole community the opportunity. I understand a lot of the questions revolve around the logistics and the grandfathering, but I think people need to be able to be heard, of what they prefer with these two scenarios. I know you mentioned Johnson House. Why are we not giving an opportunity down at the south end and the South End School for those parents to come out and speak, as well as the rest of the community. I also feel and believe just in my own dealings of having children in the secondary level, that a lot of the community does not realize that these scenarios will affect all levels. I think people are very focused on the elementary aspect of it and don’t realize that their middle schooler or their high schooler will be affected. And so, I think we just need to, I’m not saying postpone forever, but just at least give people an opportunity to have those concerns heard, and really understand everything before we go down to one, and then work on the logistics. We have all of next year.

Mike Henrick: Well, at this point, too, for their planning, moving it along. But we’ve given them two opportunities, we’ve publicized and had a live feed, I believe, right on all the presentations, which were the presentations the board went through. It was the presentation that the Planning Commission went through, was a presentation that the board went through and there were two presentations that the public were invited to and allowed to ask questions.

Heather Borges: I think it’s important for you guys to know, too, just to remember that we’ve already met our contractual requirements with SLAM, so any additional times we have them out will cost additional money because we had agreed to two public forums that SLAM attended, and we’ve already held both of those, which is fine. Again, I’m fine with it, I’m fine if we, you know, hold this off longer. Either way works for me, but just keep in mind that anytime you have SLAM come out, we’re going to be adding to that contract.

Kristen Bedell: Just another comment, we also don’t have all of next year. When budgets will start to be presented in January of next year and planning for that is done well in advance, starting, you know, whenever you start initial discussions for that, you know, that presentation is usually made in January to us. We’ll have to encumber any…

Lisa Carroll-Fabian: Right, I’m not asking to hold it off until then. I’m asking can we get a week or two, give people the opportunity to speak and then proceed as needed, but to just say we’re going to do something and give people that opportunity, and then not do it until after we’ve made a decision to only put forward one is not, it’s just not a good look. This community had been through enough with redistricting before, and to push this through instead of just taking a brief pause and give them an opportunity to speak is just not acceptable to me on both sides.

Heather Borges: So what you’re saying, Lisa, is we should hold the Johnson Forum, where people can speak publicly before making a choice, and then maybe vote in that June meeting at the end before summer.

Lisa Carroll-Fabian: Absolutely.

Jill D’Angelo-Powers: And I don’t think we would have to have SLAM if it’s not a question and answer. It’s just a forum to voice their concerns about the scenarios, and that’s what, I believe, Mr. Henrick promised the the community when we had the two other ones.

Heather Borges: I just feel guilty when I can’t answer people’s questions, right, so the questions they’re asking I cannot answer right now, and so that will be the response when they say things like are you going to be grandfathering in, or are high school people going to move—

Lisa Carroll-Fabian: Right, but to Ms D’Angelo-Powers’ point, I think it’s not a matter of them asking us questions, it’s them being able to voice their concerns, their opinions and what they, you know, believe. And it’s more like our public forum when people come and they speak. We don’t respond, but at least we need to let them be heard.

Mike Henrick: So you’re talking about more opportunities for them than the two public forums we held already, and the three board meetings we’ve had with public forums. More opportunities that that.

Lisa Carroll-Fabian: Yes.

Mike Henrick: I would myself personally prefer that we narrowed it down so then they ask questions or make comments specific to a certain plan, and not throwing darts at which one we may or may not [choose]. Most of the questions came in during the public forums about sending kids from Johnson all the way to Chapel and how would we address that, and the implementation. But we can’t answer any of those questions, and they can’t make a concise opinion when they don’t have a concise direction to go.  Implementing has been the biggest issue. We don’t know how we’re going to implement until we know what we’re going to do. So again, we’re elected to lead and we’ve given ample opportunity for them to speak, be heard and listen to the presentations. And this would help refine that process so their comments, their thoughts, their concerns can focus on something specific, not something vague. And that’s why I would like to move forward.

Bill O’Brien: And at the next meeting of Johnson, you’d have the mayor and the council at that one?

Mike Henrick: No, I would do two separate ones.

Bill O’Brien: That would be running out of time.

Mike Henrick: No. Well, I talked to the mayor and the council and we’re looking at a date before the end of the year. Just waiting to get some confirmation from them, which that’ll be an opportunity for a presentation, a virtual presentation by SLAM, and the mayor and the council will get to ask questions to SLAM and to us. And the next meeting would be to have at Johnson and to have a public forum there where they will get to come and express their opinions, but again, expressing their opinions in more of a concise manner than vague responses. 

Jill D’Angelo-Powers: Two things to that. One is that’s going to cost more money for SLAM to have that forum with the mayor and the town council, and two, afterwards, we’re really not listening to our constituents. I agree with you that we’re here to lead. We’re also here to listen to our constituents and try to make this a valuable community for them and a good educational experience for their students.

Mike Henrick: So your concern is that it’s going to cost us a few extra dollars to hear from the public because our council was also elected to lead and they represent their districts. But if that’s a concern for you, spending a few extra dollars to have the public

(Voices talking over one another)

Jill D’Angelo-Powers: I was just answering what you were saying. I was suggesting that if it cost more extra money, you’re saying, to have another forum at Johnson, it’s also going to cost additional money to host one for the town council and the mayor.

Mike Henrick: Well, the forum at Johnson would not be a SLAM presentation. It would be an opportunity because we’ve had four presentations already, it would be an opportunity now that the public has had an opportunity to review all the information for the last three months. They can come, but again, if we don’t give them something to focus their questions will be vague and they won’t understand, and then when we pick another one, so, anyway…

Lisa Carroll-Fabian: I think, to your point, Ms D’Angelo-Powers, what you were saying was being twisted. It was brought up as a concern that we would be paying SLAM an additional fee to present at Johnson House, yet we’re paying an additional fee for them to present to the mayor and the town council.

Mike Henrick: No, that’s not correct.

Lisa Carroll-Fabian: But you said we are paying additionally to have them present virtually to the town council and mayor.

Mike Henrick: I did not say that.

Lisa Carroll-Fabian: So we’re not paying an additional fee for them to come in person.

Mike Henrick: We had contracted for two in person presentations. We still have, they still owe us a couple of virtual presentations.

Lisa Carroll-Fabian: If they come in person again at Johnson we would have to pay, so we can have them come in virtually to Johnson.

Heather Borges: If you needed it, but I thought Johnson was for them to have public forum to give their comments. I’m confused about what we’re asking for.

Lisa Carroll-Fabian: I’m just confused about why in one breath it would be another fee, and then it’s not another fee because it’s virtual, but…so which is it?

Mike Henrick: I know it’s a little confusing to follow. So they owe us a couple of virtual meetings. If, when we do the presentation for the mayor and the council, it’ll be a virtual presentation by SLAM. They will present all the data on our choice, then we will have an opportunity at Johnson for the public to come and speak and give their opinion. There will not be a presentation at that point. We’ll have had five presentations, ample opportunity and all the information posted on the website for five months, so, you know, I just feel like we should endeavor to get things done, not to drag things out and the public has had ample opportunity and there’s still opportunity for them to do it and we will listen to the questions and concerns. Again, all the questions, concerns and emails have been about implementation, not specific plans, so, well, let’s pick a plan so we can listen to their concerns and address them. We can’t do that. I’m going to make a motion to approve scenario number one and move from there to have the virtual meeting with the council. I’ll schedule this with the council at an agreeable date with them, and continue to have one other public forum in Johnson for the people to come and voice opinions.

( Bill O’Brien seconded the motion with Kristin Bedell, Bill O’Brien, Sean Kennedy and Mike Henrick voting yes; Lisa Carroll-Fabian, Chris Cormier and Jill D’Angelo Powers voting no. A motion to adjourn passed unanimously.)

Mike Henrick concluded by saying there will be two more opportunities for the public to come and hear, and at least one more opportunity for them to comment, as well as by email. He suggested board members reach out to their constituents.


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