Matt Popp to RTM: Proposed New Leb Magnet School is Too Big and Won’t Work Anyway.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-11-03-00-pmUPDATE, Sept. 14. After the three RTM committees heard from Mr. Popp, Mr. Walko and Mrs. Erickson, they broke out into their three committee meetings. All three committees voted in favor of the MI for a new New Lebanon magnet school. The full RTM will vote on Monday Sept. 19 at CMS.

Original Story: Sept 13, 2:30am. Three committees of the RTM – Land Use, Education and the Legislative and Rules – convened at Town Hall Monday night to hear from Matt Popp.

Mr. Popp did what is the right of any Greenwich resident, according to town attorney Wayne Fox. Popp formally opposed the Municipal Improvement (MI) for the construction of a new New Lebanon School as a magnet school.

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“There is a process by which an individual who is a property owner can challenge what the Planning and Zoning commission may have done, controlled by section 100 of our Charter, titled Referral of MI to Representative Town Meeting,” Town attorney Wayne Fox said. “It is up to you to determine whether it is consistent with the POCD. The P&Z commission determined that it was,” he said to the RTM members.

Popp argued that the new school does not preserve the natural landscape, which is inconsistent with the Town’s POCD. He said the wooded area behind the school buffers the neighborhood from air and sound pollution, and that the woods have been used for educational purposes.

“The woods are going to be cleared,” Popp warned, describing the ravine behind the existing school as a unique and valuable ecosystem.

“We’re supposed to protect the water quality,” he continued, arguing that water would go into a catch basin and right out into the Byram River, which Popp said does not meet the standards of the drainage manual.

“The school will be pushed into the ravine. You won’t even be able to see it when you drive by,” he argued. Also, Mr. Popp said the existing field would be shortened to accommodate a catch basin.

The crux of Popp’s objection to the new school was that school buses would worsen traffic in the neighborhood and the three-lane entry would not fit in with the neighborhood.

“The bus loop is about a half acre in size. There is no other place in Byram with a three lane entry. The high school doesn’t even have three lanes.

“…If you weren’t a magnet school you wouldn’t need the half acre bus loop and the school could remain on top of the hill and retain the character of the neighborhood,” Popp said. “In my opinion it is the bus loop that is driving the school into the woods.” – Matt Popp

Popp brought up the issue of costs, including those associated with cross-town bus transportation for magnet students.

He also suggested that if New Leb pulls students from under-enrolled Parkway School, there would be costs associated with closing that school, though Mrs. Erickson said there are no plans to shutter Parkway School.

Popp urged the RTM members to deny the MI. “You could still end up with an excellent building,” he said, pointing out that both the Cos Cob Library and the Teen Center had their MI declined, but turned out nicely. Popp said a better solution would be to “build an IB hilltop school.”

School Choice? The West Side of Town Loses Out

Popp argued that the magnet program at Hamilton Avenue School does not work and that it won’t work at New Lebanon either.

“I’d like to find someone from Old Greenwich Riverside, Cos Cob, or Parkway who are  going to put their child on the bus for 20, 25  or 30 minutes to bring them to a school in Byram,” Popp said. “I don’t think it’s going to work.” 

BOE Chair Laura Erickson and New Lebanon Building Committee chair Steve Walko rebutted Mr. Popp’s objections.

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Steve Walko argued that the new school will not be “oversized.” Rather he said the size of the building was driven by the need to provide adequate “core spaces” including a full size cafeteria and gymnasium.

Asked about the potential of New Lebanon to draw students from the east side of town, considering that has not happened at Hamilton Avenue School, Mrs. Erickson broke down the magnet population at Hamilton Avenue School:

  • 10 from Glenville
  • 4 from Cos Cob
  • 3 from Julian Curtiss
  • 2 from Parkway
  • 31 from New Lebanon School

“Really not many from the Eastern side of town,” Mrs. Erickson said to a chorus of laughter.

Erickson acknowledged other elephants in the room: under enrollment at Parkway School and the concept of redistricting rather than creating magnet schools on the west side of town where schools haven’t been racially balanced.

According to a formula determined by the state, if a school’s racial minority enrollment is 25% more than, or 25% less than the average for the town overall, it is considered imbalanced. Principal Riccio said New Lebanon has 70% minority students. A school can also be cited for imbalance if it has too few minority students.

Redistricting

Erickson said that back in 2012, Greenwich received letter from the State about the district being racially imbalanced. “We had extensive community forums,” she said. “When we talked about redistricting as an option, it became very uncomfortable. I say the word uncomfortable, but there’s probably another word,” she said, to another chorus of laughter.

“I do believe more people would go to New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue if there was more space,” Erickson insisted. “One of the fundamental problems of New Leb is a lack of core space, gym, cafeteria, playground and fields.”

She said with the new school it will also be possible to restore the former pre-K program, which would go toward the end of closing the achievement gap. “These kids need accessibility to preschool.”

Erickson said that in addition to the 31 students from New Lebanon who attend Hamilton School, 5 attend ISD and 29 are attending Julian Curtiss. Also, ten kindergartners left New Lebanon voluntarily to attend Glenville School.

Why not make under-enrolled Parkway School a Magnet?

RTM member John Duge asked Mrs. Erickson if the Board of Education had considered making Parkway School into a magnet school based to boost its enrollment.

Erickson said New Leb is a walking community and that transportation was an issue for New Leb families. “Even if transportation was offered, what if a child gets sick?” she asked.

She said Parkway has 25 classrooms. Six are used for specials. Two have been re-purposed into a science lab and computer room. Also there is pre-K at Parkway. That leaves two unused classrooms at the back country school.

“There is no way you can get the 14 sections of New Lebanon into Parkway,” she said, though that was not Mr. Duge’s suggestion.

Further, Erickson said 13 New Lebanon students attended Parkway as preschoolers and elected to stay. “Once people get up there they like it. It’s a great campus. It’s our only green school,” she said.

Peter Berg asked for examples of magnet schools that succeeded in achieving racial balance? Peter Bernstein, who is a BOE member and member of the New Leb building committee said Julian Curtiss is racially balanced as a result of its magnet program.

Peter Berg suggested Julian Curtiss became balanced by attracting the non-minority students out of Hamilton Avenue school.

RTM’s Dawn Fortunato from district 3, a member of the Land Use Committee, asked whether the new building would proceed if the State discontinued the construction grant program and the town had to pay the full amount.

“If RTM denied the MI,  that would put us back to square one,” Mrs. Erickson said. ” The building committee doesn’t go away, but we would need to revisit everything, and I believe that would set us back.”

She said the state okayed the plan and that Greenwich expects to be reimbursed 62% through a diversity grant.

“We believe that if we have a vibrant IB community – we know from ISD that families are highly attracted to IB. Many of them don’t get into the IB program at ISD, they may be willing to consider New Leb, particularly if transportation is provided and they have a beautiful sparkling new school that’s on par with every other school in this district.” – BOE Chair, Laura Erickson

After Mr. Popp’s presentation and response from Mrs. Erickson and Mr. Walko, the group broke into their RTM committees. The full RTM will vote on the MI is scheduled to take place next Monday, Sept. 19.


See also:

BOE Agrees: No Modulars for New Leb Kids. Keep Students in Existing School During Construction

Happy Earth Day, Greenwich. Neighbors’ Soil Test Reveals Lead & Arsenic at Western Middle School, Proposed Site of New Leb Modulars

Talk Turns to Modulars at New Lebanon

First Selectman Voices Fears of Remediation, Knowns Vs Unknowns, at Special Meeting with New Lebanon Architects

New Lebanon School MI Process: Regrets over Napkin Sketch? “Futile Farce”?

New Lebanon School MI Process: Regrets over Napkin Sketch? “Futile Farce”?

New Leb Building Committee Vote: Unanimous for Option 1, with One Surprise Abstention

Hamstrung at New Leb: Momentum Builds for Option 1 (into Ravine), but M.I. is for Scheme D (on Existing Site)

New Lebanon Architects Present Options to Building Committee: “Option 1 Has Wow Factor.”

New Leb Déjà Vu. Renovate? BET’s Bill Drake Asks Building Committee for Renovation Estimate.

Special Board of Selectmen Meeting June 29 to Discuss MI for New Leb Scheme D

**Soup to Nuts in a Half Hour: Board of Selectmen Vote for Scheme D

New Lebanon School Scheme C: Avoids “FEMA Shacks,” Preserves Town Green

Talk Turns to Modulars at New Lebanon

New Leb Arsenic Update: More Chain Link Fences Are Coming to Byram

UPDATE: Sections of Ball Field Adjacent to New Lebanon School Fenced Off

Without Alternatives, Board of Ed Votes for Scheme D, Recommends Modulars at Western Middle School

Board of Selectmen Give Scheme B Unanimous Thumbs-Down

Scheme B — a.k.a Site Bravo — Wins in Board of Education in 6 to 2 Vote

Hundreds Turn out in Byram to Support Building New Lebanon School on William Street Ball Field

New Leb Community: If Scheme C Gets Rejected, Don’t Disperse Our Children


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  • peterfalexander

    PROUD TO SUPPORT MATT, fellow Landscape Architect (please don’t smear him by calling him a mere 3 Dimensionalist {architect}), add in Townie to his superb creds! Village Districts, Elected P&Z members are our best chance of stymieing DC/Hartford citification. Hope he supports GREENWICH TOWN PLAN!

    • Julie B

      Do you support him simple because you practice the same profession?

      • peterfalexander

        Yes in part. I disagree with him on some issues such as the stealing of Calf Island from our children. Our profession has been reduced to he “parsely ’round the pig” thought that we are called in last not first. FDR followed through on “A Planner in every Town” our profession was the original planners worldwide from ancient times. “Planners” were invented in ’30s as paper shufflers who soon without based approach they had trouble. So they had to hire engineers. Now there is a an “engineer” in every Town. They are simply not qualified through education, training or professional licensing to actual plan for the future, just mollify problems.
        Landowners voting on an actual Plan will save a lot of money & bypass the begging to “qualify” for taxpayers money based on “Planners” using this percentage & that percentage of everything including from Social Engineering to unconnected “Green Space”…remember the POCD is a State Mandate without enforceable components. Thousands of volunteer hours are wasted by well meaning Town lovers. Only to be hijacked by bureaucrats & undercover special interest operators.
        His younger age, his bravery to speak up gives me hope that the wonder world I grew up in could still be saved.
        We may be able to reverse the “Power Broker” course chosen in 1965 as our downhill strategy to “control taxes” because of my fellow boomers. It has been a mess.

  • melvindaniels

    As much as I support Mr. Popp’s right to appeal anything here, its a little hypocritical. When the project was through the design phase Mr. Popp bid for the landscape design and architecture job associated with this project. He lost the bid. He then applied to be on the building committee for this project, he wasn’t appointed. So here is my question….there have been almost 70 public meetings in reference to this project since its inception, why would he wait till the very last minute to object? The project wasn’t too big when it was going to put a nice check in Mr. Popp’s pocket, but now that he lost the bid, and everyone has worked so hard to get the project to the final stage, he appeals??? Sounds like sour grapes to me.

    • Julie B

      Oh, in fairness, both Popp and his brother have objected before now to intrusion into the woods. I never heard him object to the size of the building before now. Indeed, when questioned last night about what size he would propose, he stammered through an answer that indicated it was not so much the size but the location of the proposed building, and it was the size of the bus loop that was objectionable. But I’m right with you that it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that it is sour grapes.

    • peterfalexander

      Sour grapes? He is not that kind of guy.

      • Julie B

        What was his objection to the Shubert Library expansion? And why were the woods not so important when he proposed they be razed and the ravine filled in to make a new ballfield?

      • melvindaniels

        Exactly. He objects to almost everything. Matt Popp and his brother are the poster children for “Change Byram for the better, but do us a favor while changing it and leave it the same.” Unfortunately they don’t understand that to make an omelette, you need to break some eggs. It’s thought process like their’s that keeps Byram down. As I said before, I agree he has the right to appeal, but he should have thought about it a little harder. He’s beginning to look like a malcontent.

        • peterfalexander

          He may not be BUT I AM as in definition b “one who is in active opposition to an established order or government” State & Town are both a mess.

      • melvindaniels

        Exactly. He objects to almost everything. Matt Popp and his brother are the poster children for “Change Byram for the better, but do us a favor while changing it and leave it the same.” Unfortunately they don’t understand that to make an omelette, you need to break some eggs. It’s thought process like their’s that keeps Byram down. As I said before, I agree he has the right to appeal, but he should have thought about it a little harder. He’s beginning to look like a malcontent.

  • Sherri

    This is a very unbalanced article. All three RTM committees voted overwhelmingly in favor of the project. No one was buying what Mr. Popp was selling. He has a right to his opinion, but this article obscures the fact the he was in the minority that evening.

    • C. Devlin

      Yes, it obscures that fact and the vote of the Committees to approve Municipal Improvement status for the new school. It also does not cover the entire meeting. There were at least 4 other people who spoke including the Conservation Director and the Chairman of Wetlands as well as Byram community leaders.
      I suggest readers who want more information on this matter read the written responses by the Superintendent and the Building Committee.

      • peterfalexander

        Seriously “Conservation” & “Wetlands ” are only effectively political stooge tools.
        Not surprised.

  • Julie B

    The RTM voted for Municipal Improvement status. Planning for the new New Lebanon School proceeds.