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.
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