Friday, March 21, 2008

Stamford School Board: Secretive or Senseless?

An article in yesterday’s Advocate starts:
The Board of Education Redistricting Committee last night voted to close an elementary school in 2009 but delayed a decision on which one for at least a month.
I’m sorry, is that a joke? Have you not been hashing out the same question for six months?

The school board has been delaying the same decision since October, when they first announced their nebulous plan to close a school. In January, the board still hadn’t announced which school would close, despite ominious hints it would be Toquam Elementary. Finally, by early March, the board announced to the parents that Toquam would be closed. They also offered a completely whacked out plan about where the Toquam kids would go.

Last weekend, the New York Times covered the situation, highlighting the fact that Toquam appeared to be an ideal school: small, racially balanced, good test scores, parent support. Two days ago, the board has delayed the decision for a month… the same decision they’d been delaying since October.

To the untrained eye, this looks like a Stooges skit with everyone running around and bumping heads. Many of these untrained eyes are considering buying homes in the area, and they’re thinking, When I have kids, do I want to deal with this? Should I buy a cheaper home in Fairfield, where I hear the schools are good, and just suck up the commute?

In the Stamford Times, A.J. O’Connell writes:
Malloy, a non-voting member of the board of education, told the board at a redistricting committee meeting that more dialogue with the parents, the state and with the community is needed before the board can decide which school to close.

I’m glad he’s stepping in… but hasn’t there been dialogue over the past 6 months? What new info will come forth in this new dialogue, and where was that info last week?

O’Connell reports details that make the situation even more gossip-worthy. The mayor stepped in to delay the decision… by cutting the furniture budget of the new Cove inter-district magnet school that’s under construction (which, try to follow me, is why an elementary school needs to be closed). Cutting the budget means the new school can’t open in Sept. ’09, meaning an old school won’t be closed (or something- I have a really hard time following all of this even though I read every newspaper article at least twice).

He took away the furniture budget so the school board won’t be able to implement the closing? How Robin Hood of him. To the untrained eye, it looks like Malloy thinks the school board is making bad decisions, and the only way he can stop them is with desperate measures like taking away tables and chairs.

I just reread the Advocate article and found a new aspect to an already laughable situation:
Board members agreed to the one-month delay to give Mayor Dannel Malloy time to talk to state officials about how the new school may be populated. Members were told the magnet school couldn't have a traditional attendance district, in which children are assigned to a building based on where they live… Malloy and board members were vague about what they hope to get from the state.

Vague? Really? As a prospective Stamford Public Schools parent, I don’t like to see the leadership behaving so erratically and mysteriously. What’s the big secret, guys?

I like to gossip, but I don’t like to be negative. I only want to emphasize that many people are watching right now. The board’s actions over the next month or two will determine if people see the school system as a bonus to a great city or the biggest reason to go elsewhere.

Related posts:

March 17: Stamford Press: Toquam in the NY Times

March 6: Toquam School Pretty Much Dead

Jan 8: Board of Ed Redistricting Hearing: Test Scores, Money, Suspense!

Oct 18: Stamford School Controversy Part 2

Oct 6: Stamford School Shakeup


patty said...

Thanks again for keeping this issue in the spotlight! I love it that you don't yet have a horse in this race (so to speak) but you are staying on top of the BoE's shenanigans.

I think your read on the situation is right. Back-room politics are clearly a part of the process.

Mayor Malloy (who I totally congratulate on his leadership on this issue) seemed to emphasize that *if* a school has to be closed, it shouldn't be one with Toquam's facilities. It isn't a perfect building but it certainly is in great shape. He also mentioned the trade-off of going from (paraphrasing here) a school with the capacity of 600 k-5 Stamford students to the EMS with its capacity for 450 k-8 students.

In the scenario of closing Toquam and opening the EMS, it's long been my assertion that Stamford would be getting a raw deal. The move would benefit no one.

If common sense prevails and a school must close, my vote is for KT Murphy - whose students could (with a state waiver) then be districted for the EMS as well as other nearby schools.

It's impossible to make everyone happy in this process, but the BoE should now focus on making a decision that makes sense and benefits Stamford.

And the voters of Stamford should focus on voting Susan Nabel out of office.

Anonymous said...

As a prospective Stamford homeowner these sort of issues concern me too. Not only as a potential future parent of a Stamford Public Schools student, but also as both a taxpayer and someone who would need to sell a house to some other prospective parents down the road.

Stamford has a lot to offer its residents, but there are a lot of challenges to creating the "suburban ideal" in a city setting.

-Mr. Z

Anonymous said...

Based on the mayor’s comments and the outline he gives in his budget for closing a school if it becomes necessary, the condition of facilities is a key factor. The desire to add an actual district to the EMS and the location of the EMS (within a mile of both Rogers and KT Murphy), my guess is there is a plan afoot to close KT Murphy if need be. It is the oldest of the elementary schools, has the least amenities and is in walking distance of the EMS. Some of the “disadvantaged” kids could be shifted into Davenport, Stillmeadow and Toquam to better balance them, and the more “advantaged” kids could be districted into nearby Rogers. But that is pretty logical.

While I think it’s great the mayor is finally getting involved, you do have to ask why he has waited this long. He is on the board, and he has been in office through all the years of this “let’s get a school on the state’s dime” process. His white knight act is political grandstanding at its worst.

But I do completely agree with him that this piecemeal approach to redistricting is ridiculous. For example, if this process has been going full tilt for 15 months, why did the BOE chairman finally ask the school's number cruncher for the number of students in each districts broken down by socioeconomic status and whether/what magnet school they attend only last month? And this after they voted to move the Meadowpark kids and some streets over near Stillmeadow.

Come up with some complete scenerios -- with grandfathering and feeder pattern recommendation -- and put those up to the public for debate.

Unknown said...

I happen to agree with the critics, the Stamford BOE is void of intelligent life.