WESTFIELD, NJ - The Westfield Board of Education Tuesday voted to introduce an attendance zones policy that, in effect, continues the same redistricting plan it approved in 2009. State education officials, however, had said the 2009 plan could not be implemented because the board violated its own bylaws by not allowing 28 days between introduction and adoption of the plan.
The 2009 plan said students, most of whom had attended the Washington School for elementary school, should go for intermediate school to Edison Intermediate School instead of Roosevelt Intermediate School, where most of their parents presumed their children would be going.
Acting New Jersey Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks, however, has upheld the decision by Administrative Law Judge Richard McGill overruling the 2009 vote. McGill said the board had violated its own bylaws by not allowing the 28-day period. Hendricks’ ruling sent the measure back to the current board for action.
Washington School parents have asked the board to change its redistricting plan because they claim Westfield’s loss of state aid will leave the district without funds to pay for busing students from the Washington School area to Edison and also will force the district to do with less teachers than the growing Edison School population requires.
At Tuesday’s meeting Superintendent of Schools Margaret Dolan said, however, that the district will have to provide four buses to the intermediate schools under the current plan or the revised plan.
She added the new attendance plan would be able to accommodate up to 250 students in each of two intermediate school classes without hiring additional staff.
There will be about 564 fifth graders going into the intermediate schools next year, she noted. Current bussing arrangements could accommodate this number, the superintendent said, but if the total class size grows up to 260 in the sixth and seventh grades additional staff would be necessary.
The current fourth grade classes should present no problem she added, but the current third grade class is larger and the district would have to continually monitor it to see if it would present a problem when the students reached the intermediate schools.
Parent Lee Stoller of Kirkview Circle replied school officials had estimated the next sixth grade at Edison would contain 320 students—70 over the amount Dolan claimed was effective for team teaching school officials felt was necessary in the intermediate schools.
To hire part-time teachers or have current teachers do instruction outside the normal school day, he added, would “gut” the team teaching concept at Edison while continuing the concept intact at Roosevelt.
He urged the school board to renegotiate its contract with the Westfield Education Association to provide 2% rather than 3.9% salary increases to teachers next year with the savings to be used to hire the additional staff.
Failing the acceptance of this “shared sacrifice”, he said, the board should not adopt the proposed redistricting setup.
Board member Richard Mattessich said he did not feel comfortable voting on a policy adopted two years ago prior to the current economic downturn and the reduction in state aid.
He complained the board had not properly documented whether it had considered alternatives that could affect more than just the Washington School neighborhood and it looked like the school body had moved too quickly to redistrict only students from the Washington area.
Paperwork on alternatives studied but not finally decided upon by the board probably had been discarded, replied board member Gary McCready.
“Nothing leapt out at us as the best decision,” he added. “The decision is not necessarily based on the best timing, but it is based on the timing of the judge’s decision. This decision is not necessarily permanent. We can revisit the plan later.”
A proposed amendment to the redistricting plan by Mattessich that would have made it effective only until the end of the 2010-2011 school year was defeated, with only David Finn and Mitchell Slater joining in supporting it.
The final vote on the revamping of attendance zones and transportation to the intermediate schools is scheduled for Tuesday, December 14, at 8 pm.
Also, at Tuesday night’s meeting, the board heard a report by Assistant Superintendent of Schools Anita O’Neal that Westfield students in the third through 11thgrades surpassed the average scores in statewide assessment testing in every category by large margins.
The school body also voted to appropriate an additional $10,000 to pay the DeCottis Law Firm for legal consultation on the district’s planning for installation of solar heating systems on the roofs of district schools.