Groton revises redistricting proposal again

Groton - Fewer elementary school students will be moved to different schools under the latest, and likely final, revision to a school redistricting plan designed to address racial imbalances.

The revisions were made as part of an evolving boundary shifting plan that not only addresses a state mandate but also school overcrowding.

The board is taking action reluctantly, with one member seeking the aid of a state legislator to challenge state law.

The latest plan incorporates input from the public and school board, said Michael Zuba, a planner with Milone & MacBroom, the consulting firm hired by the school board in June.

The plan will be presented at a public informational meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Claude Chester Elementary School - the last in a series of meetings before the plan goes to the state for approval.

The newest plan calls for moving 16 percent of students from pre-kindergarten through fourth grade as opposed to the 20 percent of the students shuffled into new school district boundaries in the last plan. Milone & MacBroom has gone through at least nine revisions, addressing things like class size, projected enrollments, demographic changes and school capacities.

Zuba said the plans try to minimize impact on students, families and neighborhoods - one of the more emotional issues involved in redistricting.

Interim Superintendent John Ramos will present the plan to staff at the state Department of Education for initial approval later this month.

Ramos said the adjustments directly address the state's concern about racial makeup in the schools but also remedy overcrowding issues, specifically at the Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School, from which the entire fifth grade was moved to another school because of space constraints.

"The state can give us a clear sense of whether we are on target or not," Ramos said.

By January, Ramos said, he will need local school board approval and state Board of Education approval so that he can get started on budget and transportation planning.

Groton is redistricting after the state notified the school system in 2010 of a racial imbalance at Kolnaski, where the minority population is currently at 61 percent and there are 226 minority students among the 370 total students. Several other schools are teetering on a racial imbalance.

A school is considered racially imbalanced if the minority population is 25 percent higher or lower than the district average.

The school board appears resigned to the redistricting plan as the only way to appease the state.

"I don't think anybody on the board is happy we have to do this," said Board Chairwoman Kirsten Hoyt.

Even without the state mandate, however, Hoyt said some movement of students would be needed to address overcrowding issues.

Board member Robert Peruzzotti has said he is against any plan to move students based on race and has the backing of state Rep. Edward Moukawsher, D-Groton.

Moukawsher contends the state's racial balancing statutes are unconstitutional and outdated considering a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down programs in school systems that used race as criteria for students to get into a particular school.

Connecticut statutes on the matter were written more than four decades ago to address "a very different time," Moukawsher said.

He said he intends to introduce legislation next year to challenge or repeal the state law, "and reflect what is permissible under the Supreme Court ruling."

"I think it's unfair to take kids out of a school with the most up to date facilities (Catherine Kolnaski) and move them to another school because of their race," Moukawsher said.

He suggested the town join with another town spending money to redistrict and force the state to go to federal court.

"I think we need a debate about it," Moukawsher said. "I think there will be reluctance but we need a better understanding of what the Supreme Court has said. We've been ignoring it."

Laura Anastasio, a staff attorney for the state Board of Education, said the state law does not mandate redistricting, but rather leaves it up to an individual district to come up with a plan. She said she thinks it would be a difficult proposition to challenge the law.

Hoyt said any decision to address state statute would be made as a board.

"In any case we still have to comply until that legislation is changed," she said.



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