WPS sub-committees to hold meeting on redistricting

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WESTFIELD, MAss. (The Westfield News) – The Westfield School Committee will be holding a joint meeting of the Finance and Curriculum & Instruction Sub-Committees on Wednesday, February 15 at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Westfield Technical Academy. Families and stakeholders of the Westfield Public Schools will be notified of the meeting by phone messenger calls and emails, and encouraged to attend.

The School Committee is looking at different options for redistricting in order to reduce expenses, after discovering that $2.9 million more would be needed for the FY18 district budget in order to provide the same level of services as in FY17. All but one of the options involve ending the lease for the Russell Elementary School, and moving students and grades around within the district’s existing schools.

A previous Finance Sub-Committee meeting exploring the seven possible options was held on January 17 in the auditorium of Westfield Technical Academy, at which 200 people participated. Since then, according to Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski, the district has been looking more deeply into the four options which are still being considered after three were voted not to recommend to the full School Committee.

Option 1: Russell Elementary Remains Open.

Pros: Stability for students and staff, great physical plant, keeps school community together.

Cons: Almost 200 students (187) students travel out of town.

Option 3: Distribute the 187 Russell students to other elementary schools.

Pros: Savings of at least $699,764 in staff, rent and utilities. This option could reduce additional staff; provide an opportunity to redeploy the 5 buses on the C-run. All students would attend a school in Westfield.

Cons: Requires redistricting of all elementary schools; may impact transportation; may be tight in some schools; would create layoffs; breaks up an established school.

Option 5: Redistrict the City to six-K-4 elementary schools and two 5-8 middle schools.

Pros: Saves at least $699,764. Increases 5th grade learning time by 30 min./day, or 90 hours/year, adding the equivalent of almost 15 more days of school. Reduces transportation; staff savings, can redistribute staff; students at Middle School for 4-years; frees up 20 elementary classroom spaces; may be able to consolidate 19 classes into 17.

Cons: Large middle schools, (North Middle School=897 and SMS=747); 150-student-difference between middle schools; would require redistricting of middle schools to balance; would create layoffs; parent concerns with fifth graders at middle school.

Option 6: Redistrict to six K-4 elementary schools, to one 5/6 intermediate school, and one 7/8 middle school.

Pros: Saves at least $699,764. Increases 5th grade learning time by 30 min./day, or 90 hours/year, adding the equivalent of almost 15 more days of school. Balances population at middle schools (823 to 820); frees up 20 elementary classrooms; may be able to consolidate 19 classes into 17.

Cons: Additional transition at a critical time; short stay (2-yrs) at two schools. Increases transportation costs city-wide to both schools as just about every student would be bused to NMS. Need to bus 337 additional students on 7 buses; would create layoffs.

The committee voted not to recommend the following options at the Jan. 17 meeting:

Option 2: Move Russell Elementary into South Middle School as a School within-a-School. (Sub-committee voted not to recommend to the School Committee.)

Option 4: Redistrict Franklin Ave. and Highland to K-4 schools and make South Middle School a 5-8 school. (Sub-committee voted not to recommend to full School Committee.)

Option 7: Redistrict to six K-4 elementary schools, two 5-7 middle schools and two 8-12 high schools. (Sub-committee voted not to recommend to the School Committee, because Westfield Technical Academy cannot accept 8th graders.)

Czaporowski said that he and members of the School Committee have received emails and heard from many people, including comments made at the January 17 meeting, about the different options, but he said the comments have been “all over the place.”

Czaporowski said they’ve also looked into options 5 and 6 – one which would create two 5-8 middle schools, and the other which would create one 5/6 intermediate school and one 7/8 middle school – to see if there is evidence as to which would be the better grade configuration. He said they have found no conclusive evidence favoring one or the other, adding that it has more to do with what goes on in the building than the grade configuration.

“I think after our meeting next week, we’ll have a clearer picture, but by no means a final picture,” Czaporowski said. He said the district is under some time pressure, because the lease for Russell Elementary ends in April, with two six-month renewable options remaining. He said they would have to make a decision by that time on the lease.

But he said it’s too soon to tell what the district will do.

“I really want to hear what the community members have to say before we move forward,” Czaporowski said.

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