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Approve school redistricting in Groton

Published January 07. 2013 4:00AM

Redrawing boundary lines and requiring students to relocate from what they have come to know as their neighborhood school is always a difficult and often unpopular challenge for a public school system. Add in a state mandate requiring such changes and resistance grows.

Such has been the situation in Groton, where state laws intended to prevent racial imbalance within a public school system has forced the district to come up with new boundaries for its seven elementary schools, which provide education through Grade 5. It would mean busing some students a further distance. About 16 percent of elementary students would transfer to a new school.

The Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School has a 73 percent minority student population, exceeding the district average of 42 percent by 31 points. The state law requires changes when imbalances are 25 percent or higher.

There are legitimate reasons to question the state requirement. Research has shown that economic status, not racial makeup, correlates to school performance. The law also has a serious flaw in that it only applies within a school district. The real problem in Connecticut is the gap between education performance in cities with their large, poor minority populations and that of their predominately white and more affluent suburban neighbors.

Yet there are certainly positive aspects to having a culturally diverse student population within a community's neighborhood schools, including helping instill tolerance and a natural acceptance of people who are different. And the fact is the requirement is the law, whether Groton or any community likes it or not. Change would have to come legislatively, not through ignoring a mandate.

Working with a consultant the administration, led by Interim Superintendent John Ramos, has come up with a plan that not only addresses the racial imbalance but also overcrowding in some of the district schools. If the plan is implemented the racial imbalance at Kolnaski would drop to 18.7 percent. And because some Kolanski students would be relocating to other schools, the changes would eliminate overcrowding there. In preparing the plan, the administration and consultants have sought to address concerns raised by the public at a series of hearings.

A major driver of the imbalance and overcrowding was a spike in students coming from the Branford Manor area, growing from 193 in 2009 to 256 this year. The new plan would send students coming from Branford Manor to two schools.

The state Department of Education has signed off on the draft plan. Tonight the Board of Education is expected to vote on it when it meets at 7 at Town Hall Annex. From our perspective, approval would be the sound choice. Final approval, seen as highly likely, would then come from the state Board of Education next month.

The administration needs to begin planning its budget for next year, organize staff assignments, finalize bus routes and address other program changes associated with redistricting. Further delays in getting school board approval will make those tasks more difficult. It is time to move forward.

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