East Lyme parents get look at school redistricting options

East Lyme — Parents of elementary school students, at a community forum on redistricting options for the 2019-20 school year on Thursday, asked questions about travel times, why certain neighborhoods were being moved and ways to make the transition easier for the children.

Milone & MacBroom, a firm hired by the school board, presented two different redistricting scenarios at the forum attended by more than 50 residents, Board of Education members and school administrators in the East Lyme High School auditorium.

The school board is expected to select an option by the end of May and begin planning this summer and through next spring for the redistricting that would start for the 2019-20 school year in the newly renovated elementary schools, according to the presentation. The renovation of the three schools is on track to begin in June and finish in September 2019, said Board of Education Chairman Timothy Hagen.

Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said the redistricting will even out enrollment at the three elementary schools, with kindergarten through fourth grade enrollment at 175 at Niantic Center School; 369 at Flanders Elementary School; and 297 at Lillie B. Haynes School. He said Flanders Elementary School is at its maximum capacity, and much of the growth tends to happen in the north end of town.

Enrollment is anticipated to grow over the next 10 years, according to projections from Milone & MacBroom. 

The Board of Education had reviewed last month five redistricting scenarios and eliminated three. The board then asked Milone & MacBroom to tweak the two remaining options, Alternatives 3 and 4, into Alternatives 3A and 4A.

According to the presentation from Mike Zuba of Milone & MacBroom, Alternative 3A would move approximately 187 kindergarten through fourth-grade students, or about 22 percent of the elementary student population. About 105 students would move from Flanders Elementary School to the Lillie B. Haynes School; about 14 students would move from Niantic Center School to Lillie B. Haynes; and about 68 students would move from Lillie B. Haynes to Niantic Center.

Alternative 4A would move approximately 167 kindergarten through fourth-grade students, or about 19.9 percent of elementary students, according to the presentation. The plan would move about 96 students from Flanders to Lillie B. Haynes, and about 71 students from Lillie B. Haynes to Niantic Center.

The numbers are based on current enrollment numbers of kindergarten through fourth-grade students, so the actual number of students who move likely will be lower, Zuba explained. 

The school board's criteria for the development of the scenarios included balancing out enrollment, ensuring the plans accommodate future growth in the town to reduce the need to redistrict again soon, and trying to keep neighborhoods intact and limit travel time, according to the presentation.

Dean Donovan, who lives in The Orchards subdivision, said the redistricting of the neighborhood would almost double travel time from the subdivision and seems to conflict with the criteria of limiting travel time and maintaining neighborhoods.

He said that while The Orchards likely has been chosen for redistricting due to the development's potential growth, he pointed out that in the 11 years that new homes have been built there, student enrollment has decreased at Flanders School. He said the subdivision tends to have high turnover, and it shouldn't be assumed that all the new homes that will be built would have elementary students, since some people have older children, don't have children or send their children to private school.

Several parents from the Saunders Point neighborhood voiced support for Alternative 4A. They questioned why under Alternative 3A, a small number of children in their neighborhood — they say 11 — who already attend Niantic Center would be moved to Lillie B. Haynes, while students from other neighborhoods then would be moved into Niantic Center.

"To move our kids out just does not make any sense at all. Please keep them in," said Christa Sanders of Saunders Point. She added that the neighborhood is unlikely to have huge projected growth in the future.   

Parents further recommended the school district find ways to ease the transition for students, for example by taking field trips to the new schools or placing students, who are slated to move to another school in 2019-20, in the same classroom next year. Newton and Hagen said they are receptive to those ideas.

Newton said during the presentation that 2019-20 might not be the only time the school system needs to redistrict. It might happen again in the future, whether it's in another four or eight years.

"It's something we're going to need to monitor as we move forward in the years ahead," he said.

The presentation also will be posted on the school district's website, eastlymeschools.org.

k.drelich@theday.com

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