Greenwich Schools Superintendent to Hartford: Denying Funds for Diversity School for Which it is Eligible is Unacceptable

Op-Ed Submitted by Dr. Salvatore Corda, Interim Superintendent of the Greenwich Public Schools, Jan 19, 2017

Greenwich Public Schools (GPS) remains committed to the New Lebanon School building project, despite a recommendation from a State official to deny State funding.

On January 17, 2017, a letter was sent from the Superintendent’s office to the State’s School Construction Committee, and other State and local officials, advocating for the funding necessary to complete this essential project.

The reimbursement request for the construction of the New Lebanon school comes under the provisions of CGS Sec. 10-286h, which provides for an 80% reimbursement for school building project grants for diversity schools for school districts where a racial imbalance occurs and where, “…the Board has demonstrated evidence of a good faith effort to correct the existing disparity in the proportion of pupils of racial minorities in the district, as determined by the Commissioner of Education.”

In a December 29, 2016 communication to the Committee, Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Secretary, Benjamin Barnes, made a recommendation to withhold funding for the construction of the New Lebanon School (Project No. 057-0112DV/N).

This is a project included in the CT Department of District Administrative Services (DAS) priority list, approved by the State Board of Education as part of the Greenwich Racial Balance Plan, and essentially singles out Greenwich for denial of funding.

The rationale for the OPM recommendation and the GPS rebuttal follow.

OPM Point #1: The project takes advantage of a law, which in Mr. Barnes’ opinion is problematic, that allows new construction to address racial imbalance, which he feels results in avoiding difficult decisions about redistricting.

GPS Rebuttal: The plan for the construction of the New Lebanon School met all of the criteria as outlined in Statute and by the Commissioner of Education, resulting in approval by the State Board of Education on July 9, 2014. The Greenwich Board of Education Chair and I reaffirmed with the current Commissioner on January 9, 2017 that the approval status of the plan is unchanged.

OPM Point #2: Mr. Barnes feels Greenwich has avoided the difficult decisions around redistricting.

GPS Rebuttal: Contrary to Mr. Barnes’ opinion, Greenwich conducted a comprehensive and arduous public process, devoting time, personnel and extensive resources to explore numerous options to racially balance our schools. In addition, the District worked in ongoing consultation with the State Department of Education as the plan was developed. Redistricting was not selected as a viable option as it would create irrational school boundaries which would have to be redrawn every two or three years because of continually changing demographics in the district; necessitate busing large numbers of students and the reassigning of approximately 900 students, significantly increase annual transportation costs, and appreciably add to congestion and traffic emissions on the roads of Greenwich. Greenwich concluded that the magnet school option is the most viable option. Magnet schools continue to be a viable plan consistently endorsed by the

State legislature and the State Education Department, both as a means for addressing racial imbalance and for improving student achievement. However, New Lebanon School can no longer support the number of students in its attendance area, much less space for magnet students. Hence, the plan for a new building was included as an essential component of the Greenwich Racial Balance Plan.

OPM Point #3: Mr. Barnes asserts that Greenwich can afford to pay for an intradistrict magnet school if it chooses a magnet school as its means to address racial imbalance.

GPS Rebuttal: This line of reasoning ignores that such a decision would raise taxes in our community which, perhaps to the surprise of many, would cause an undue burden on the many GPS families (approximately 14%) who qualify for free and reduced price lunch, and others that live just above that threshold.

Denying Greenwich the funds for which it is eligible under the law for this project is not acceptable. Too much has been invested by too many for too long to get this project to the final approval stage and have the rug pulled out from under it. Our children deserve better.

This is not an issue that affects just the New Lebanon School community, but the entire Town of Greenwich. The rejection of the funding for the construction of the New Lebanon School would:

* stall the racial balance plan, approved by the State Board of Education, that best serves our students;

* send the message to our community that overcrowding, the assignment of kindergarten classes to a satellite location, and the continuation of undersized core facilities (i.e., library, cafeteria, etc.) should be tolerated;

* require extended time and efforts on the part of the Greenwich community to re-examine the implementation of racial balance plan.

We have urged the State School Construction Committee to approve this project to be included for the Diversity Grant funding priority projects to be advanced to the full legislature by February 1, 2017.


Email news tips to Greenwich Free Press editor
Like us on Facebook
Subscribe to the daily Greenwich Free Press newsletter.

  • Matt Popp

    OPM Point #4: The primary reason not to build the oversized costly new school because it will not attract “white” students from the far side of town to reduce New Lebanon’s racial imbalance.

    Corda’s Response: None. (The lack of any response implies that he agrees with this point).

    • melvindaniels

      The lack of response means he cant tell the future. Oddly enough many of your opinions have come across as a constant bout of sour grapes. Just because you cant get the people on the boards in this town to acquiesce to your point of view is no reason to keep battling a project that you yourself lost the bid for. It wasnt too big then though, was it. Stop worrying about yourself and start worrying about the children in your community.

      Did your children go to kindergarten in another building down the street? Did your children have class in a repurposed janitor’s closet? Did your children have a gym and cafeteria that weren’t large enough to support the existing school population at the time they attended? If you answered no to any, if not all, of these questions, than do us all a favor and please be quiet.

      • Matt Popp

        I think you are missing my point. I agree that we need a larger school sized for Byram. But we don’t need an oversized school sized for 50 additional “white” magnet students that are not leaving their existing high performing neighborhood school to attend a Title One school.

        • melvindaniels

          No, you are missing the point. We need a new school. Who cares about the reasoning that gets us to that goal? Its a means to long deserved end for this community. So stop headbutting at every turn, because it is nothing that you have ever had to deal with as a parent as you dont have children of elementary school age at this time.

          • Matt Popp

            The point is that if you are not getting the 50+ white students than the school project could be much smaller. For example, why would Byram want a half acre bus loop for 8 buses on an extremely tight site if there will be no busses? The goal is to get the right school project for the long term.

          • melvindaniels

            Unfortunately, student population forecasting is not an exact science, but for right now we need a bigger school. Please stop clouding the waters with minutia like the bus loop and start supporting OUR community decisions. For once start being part of the solution and not part of the problem.

          • Matt Popp

            There are many in OUR community that don’t want a Riverside or Cos Cob sized school in Byram. The PoCD and BMP back this up. Take a good look at the site plans and you’ll agree that the development is too big for the site. How does having 3 pre-k classes that designed to attract minorities help with reducing racial imbalance? It doesn’t. And lastly, what happens when the new school doesn’t work to reduce racial imbalance? Build a bigger school?

          • melvindaniels

            Because the plan should have been to build out the field to begin with, but I promise you that you and your constituency are part of the minority. How does having NO pre k classes help OUR community. Plus, having pre k classes attracts many different ethnicities, but again you wouldnt understand because you have no children of that age at this time. Its literally half the cost of a private pre school!

            Once again, I come back to the fact that when you were bidding for the landscape design contract, which you didnt win, it wasnt too big then.

            Oh the irony.

          • Matt Popp

            I guess you don’t have answers to any of my questions. In case you don’t remember, I was against placing the school in the last woodland in Byram by the highway over a year before the project went out to bid.

          • melvindaniels

            New modern schools bring new people and new people come in all different colors. Did you ever think that Byram can’t attract people that want a better school for their children because they don’t have a better school to provide? Why would you want to send your child to an overcrowded School if you have the money to send them to a not quite at capacity School? But once again you do not have children in the age group at this time so you don’t think about it for the children you only think about it for yourself. And regardless of your stance on putting it in the Woodland you were also against putting it on the field which would have been another viable option, so for you there are no viable options. But unfortunately we need an option and it is unfortunate that a few members of the Byram Community like yourself do nothing but headbutt the project from day one unless it meant gain for yourself.

          • Matt Popp

            Clearly NL needs to be larger. But to think that building an oversized building will reduce racial imbalance is incorrect. Why did the new large Ham Ave magnet school building, which is closer to the eastern side of town, fail to attract “white” students? What about the new large West Hartford and Fairfield elementary schools which also did work to reduce racial imbalance? WMS only attracted a laughable one student. The new students have to be “white” to solve the racial imbalance.

          • melvindaniels

            Incorrect. New students need only be non-hispanic.

          • Matt Popp

            Sorry but the opposite is correct. New students have to be “non-Hispanic whites” to reduce racial imbalance.
            The BOE Racial Balance Plan lists Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and others listed as minorities (page 29).

          • melvindaniels

            Once again how do you attract anyone if there is no room? And they only need be non Hispanic.

          • Matt Popp

            You’re missing the point. The school could be 80,000 sf and still no one is going to come. Do you honestly believe some parent from Riverside, OG, CC, or Parkway is going to send their “white” kid to NL? If so just name one. If you respond without names I’ll assume you agree with me.

          • melvindaniels

            How many new white families would move to byram if the school was big enough to accomodate them? Once again the “magnet” philosophy is a means to an end, and i believe you are smart enough to understand that.

          • Matt Popp

            Glad you agreed with me.

          • melvindaniels

            Why would I name anyone? I dont know who would or would not send there children to a shiny new school. And conversely you cant name anyone that wouldn’t. Because neither if us could tell the future. But once again the point is to get it built. You agree we need a school, you agree the kids and any future kids regardless of color, need more space, a larger gym, a larger cafeteria. But you will sit and dispute design minutia not because you dont believe we need a new school, but because you are upset about losing the contract. Because other than that you have no reason to dispute any of it because it doesnt effect you in the slightest.

          • Matt Popp

            I’m glad you still agree with me. If you want names of parents who would not send their just look at the directory of OG, CC, RS, PW, and NS – none of them are coming.

            To set the record straight, M&M the landscape architects hired for the project have done a great job landscaping a bad site plan. My 2 person firm would have never gotten this project and rightfully so. We don’t specialize in schools. However, if you have a wetland, CAM, or wildlife issue in you property please feel free to call my office. I’m sure we could help.

          • melvindaniels

            I dont agree with you, I just have a brighter outlook than you. Not everyone believes that lily white is the future of this world. How many kids in the Byram area that magneted out would have never done so had the parents been happy with the school at the time? The answer, none. The school is not big enough. Would you have sent your children into a bad scenario? How many parents didnt send there children to kindergarten when given the opportunity to send them to Glenville? For goodness sake, your good buddy Steve Anderson, former BOE chairman sent his kids to Julian Curtiss and he lived right on Byram Shore Road. What does that tell you about his feelings about the school?

            And for the record you would have been ecstatic to get the design job, but you didnt. And you can say rightfully so, but you did bid, so it was clearly a project you wanted, so dont play like you knew thats what the outcome was going to be. Just like when you applied to be on the building committee…another rejection. Dont make the kids suffer the pain of your bruised ego.