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Dolan: Data Says Washington Redistricting Working

Board of Education briefed on intermediate school enrollment.

Amid calls for more transparency and doing more for children, school district officials presented data Tuesday evening endorsing the redistricting of .

Schools Superintendent Margaret Dolan’s report on intermediate school enrollment showcased enrollment totals for Roosevelt and Edison Intermediate Schools which shows the two schools close to capacity entering the third year of the redistricting. The Board of Education voted in 2009 to redistrict part of the Washington neighborhood from Roosevelt to Edison, a vote confirmed in December of 2010, following an order from the state education commissioner. The redistricting, one of the most controversial decisions in BOE history, touched off a firestorm of opposition from Washington area parents.

“All of the work that went into the new attendance zones has paid off,” Dolan said. “We are able to offer all of our intermediate students all of the support that they need. For all of those people who are no longer on the board or active in the community groups, I think your efforts paid off.”

Dolan said that the projected sixth grade enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year will have 307 students at Edison and 257 at Roosevelt, for a total of 564 students. She said the approximate sixth grade capacity for Edison is 316 students with the approximate sixth grade capacity at Roosevelt being 250 students, for a total of 566 students. She said redistricting helped to keep the total numbers in this range.

The projected enrollment for the 2011-2012 school year for the seventh grade is 477 students and the projected enrollment for eighth grade is 501 students. Dolan said that the average class size for the next school year for sixth graders in academic subjects will be 24 at Edison and 23 at Roosevelt. For non-academic subjects, Dolan said the class size will be 21 at Edison and 20 at Roosevelt.

Assistant Schools Superintendent Anita O’Neil said the district has been planning for the increased student body, including hiring more two-fifths teachers for the intermediate schools, along with redistributing existing staff to the intermediate schools and utilizing the team teaching concept.

“We have been planning for this for a while,” O’Neil said. “We have been doing it carefully and strategically.”

A large contingent of Washington parents packed the audience, with several questioning Dolan’s data, along with two of the BOE members elected from the neighborhood in an on-going response to the redistricting vote. The Washington neighborhood has become a potent political force in school elections since the 2009 vote, providing large pluralities to three neighborhood residents – Rich Mattessich, David Finn and Mitch Slater – and a Jefferson resident aligned with the trio – Mark Friedman – in successful board races.

The original redistricting vote prompted several suits against the board, including over proper bussing to Edison from the Washington neighborhood and the process used to make the change. The state education department ordered the BOE to provide bussing for the students and last November, former acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks had violated the by-laws in adopting the original policy and ordered a new vote in December.

The new vote , with Mattessich, Finn and Slater voting no. In addition, the board voted 5-4 to apologize to the Washington neighborhood on how the policy was communicated to the residents. BOE members Ann Cary and Jane Clancy joined Mattessich, Finn and Slater in the apology vote.

Mattessich, the board’s vice president, questioned Dolan on how the data was put together, including if she and her staff looked at multi-year data, including the impact on class sizes. Dolan said Roosevelt would have had 850 students if there had been no redistricting, above the 750-student capacity calculated by Dolan and her staff.

Mattessich questioned how the 750 number was developed. He said parents he has spoken to who attended Roosevelt have said there were more than 750 students in the building at the time. Dolan confirmed the larger student population, but that there have been changes in education trends, including no study halls.

“The schools are completely different from when I went to school,” Dolan said. “Everyone was in large classes and most special education students were not in our public schools, they were shipped out. There were no computers. I can vouch for the fact that my teachers, and they were wonderful, were not into differentiated instruction.”

Mattessich also questioned Dolan over whether other options, including a split schedule were discussed during the original redistricting. Dolan said several split schedule ideas were considered but dismissed based on population.

Nicole Morris, whose son was one of the first students redistricted from Roosevelt to Edison, took issue with the class size numbers mentioned by Dolan in her remarks. She said her son’s math class at Edison has 30 students in it, while his orchestra class has 40 students.

“I am concerned about the quality of the education we’re giving these kids,” she said. “I am concerned on how equal. It has always felt that there was something being hidden from us and that there was politics of one school being favored. Make it fair and make it transparent. It is not fair and it is not transparent.”

Morris pressed the board for more data to be revealed on the class sizes, including calling for the board to release raw class size data to the public and all board members.

“What would be really helpful for the board is a year-by-year, side-by-side, class-by-class data,” she said. “I encourage you not to spin the data. If the data shows it is an equal experience, then great. If that is the case, can you show it? It would give us more faith. You made that decision to do that to our children and made them the redistricted kids. This is about transparency. We have budget issues. Let the public get behind you by being transparent and not showing the spin.”

O’Neil took the podium in response to Morris to refute her class size accusations. Armed with a spreadsheet, which she said contained intermediate school class size data; O’Neil addressed Language Arts and music classes for Edison and Roosevelt. She said the Edison Language Arts classes do not exceed 25 students. Upon questioning from Slater on the math number, O’Neil said the largest math class at Edison has 27 students, with the largest class at Roosevelt containing 24 students.

Mattessich asked Dolan if the board members could receive copies of the data that O’Neil was referencing. He said he has asked for it before and has not received it. Dolan said that she could provide the information.

“When you see the data, you will see there wasn’t a spin,” Dolan said. “The classes are balanced.”

Mattessich and other Washington residents have been pressing for more material related to the redistricting decision. During the December debate, Mattessich expressed concern over the lack of committee reports and memos regarding alternatives to redistricting Washington students, suggesting the reports had been “cleaned up.” BOE member Ann Cary refuted Mattessich, saying that no minutes had been taken at the relevant committee meetings and the records Mattessich asked for had not been created.

Audience members questioned the board on the social impact of the redistricting, saying that Washington students at Edison cannot participate in Roosevelt activities with friends. (See sidebar for complete story on this issue.)

Mattessich and parents asked if the redistricting will end after three years, as was originally thought, or continue going forward. Dolan presented data for young elementary school classes, including the present third grade, which has 569 students. The incoming sixth grade is the largest Westfield class since the WHS class of 1981, with the current third grade being larger.

Dolan said the data is being monitored by her office and the board’s long range planning committee on a regular basis.

“It is monitoring the enrollment,” she said. “We have not had major changes that have surprised us. You have to continually monitor.”

dave June 16, 2011 at 02:05 AM
Does anyone know why BOE members, unlike Town Council members, are not elected on the basis of geographical districts? Part o the anger of the Washington parents was that there was no BOE member from Washington. Now that there are 3 (plus a 4th Patch says courted the Washington vote), there are none from other schools, who presumably are feeling similarly deprived of informed representation. It might be a better system to have one from each elementary school district (assuming there are candidates) and some elected as "at large" delegates, to avoid both having districts with no representatives and districts of unequal sizes having equal votes.
Betsy Williams June 16, 2011 at 02:14 AM
History Lesson #2: Every elementary school in Westfield EXCEPT WASHINGTON has been redistricted over the years, some of them more than once....EVERY ONE except Washington! Why is Washington sacred? Children at other schools were separated from their friends and at much younger ages and when their friends got to stay in the same school. You're absolutely right. New BOE members have been elected and they can, if they want to, overturn the redistricting. If they do, fine. that IS the American way. In the meanwhile, let's keep the conversation civil. Stop the blaming. Stop the name-calling. Let's agree that everyone is doing what they think is best. Honest, well-meaning people can disagree without being wicked and evil. Calling someone a "liar" because their opinion is different than your own is no way to solve an issue. Calling people "liar
steven Le warn June 16, 2011 at 02:32 AM
I can understand the Wash parents being PO about it but any way it was sliced somebody on the north side was gonna be po, they tried to have wilson kids go to EISthe year before and it was with a carrot of new classes and no one took them up on it ( I think 3 kids said they would go) The idea of moving it form Wash to Wilson, to Franklin would not work I think unless you have no issue with siblings going to different middle schools. I went to every meeting regarding this when they wanted Wilson kids to go to EIS and never heard boo from the Washington people, as I said somebody was gonna be annoyed by what ever they decided. Yes my kid went to RIS but most of the sport teams she was on at RIS 8 grade sports she was on the EIS side of town with teams made up mostly of EIS girls, she survived and made friends with them before they went to HS. DO I think the BOE handle it correctly? Not sure but I have not heard a good solution to the problem. I would say if the BOE promised Washington they would only do it for three years and the issue is still there and they need to send some kids to EIS in the future they should look to Wilson and Franklin first before they send more Wash kids to EIS ( and yes I have a child in the very full 3 grade class they will more than likely north side kids going to EIS) To the Washington parents you have place a number of Washington people on the BOE, let see if they and the rest of the BOE come up with a better solution.
Gary McCready June 16, 2011 at 02:54 AM
The biggest reason you don't have "districted" BoE members is that often you won't find someone to run - if you look at the elections in the past (and especially the debates) there would be some folks you would not want to get a seat just because they lived near a school. Looking at it another way, it would certainly prevent one school from stacking the BoE. You would also have the interesting situation of having the Superintendent get to change boundaries due to enrollment and causing someone to lose their seat! You will find such "elementary" districts for towns that only have one school, and send their kids to a regional high school, and other like districts. I think there are two things everyone could agree on - whatever redistricting was done would have upset someone, and that a lot of parents value their kids social lives above some educational issues. And on whether a higher class size or more crowded schools are worth keeping kids together, well, that could always be debated, which is why the BoE should rely on it's hired staff to make those decisions.
Townie June 16, 2011 at 03:02 AM
Betsy Williams, History Lesson #3. You don't know what you're talking about. No kids have EVER been redistricted to Edison other than Washington kids in 2009. Sending every kid in Gardens ACROSS STREET FROM WHERE THEY LIVE to Wilson doesn't compare to sending 25 kids each year to other end of town (40 minutes in traffic) on a bus. Don't compare apples and oranges and obfuscate real issue. Washington isn't sacred, in fact, Washington is the one redistricted. Explain your sacred point, we're all confused. History Lesson #4. Dr. Dolan is a certified liar on this topic. Go back and look at Westfield Leader from 2009. Not a difference in opinion, its certified. Go ask county superintendent Centuolo, the Washington parents did. History Lesson #5. Lack of civility came from Ginny Leiz, Dr. Dolan, and the BOE's attorney who was nasty to all the parents. Ginny tried to apologize in the Leader after the starter home comment. Unfortunately nobody ever taught her that to apologize, you actually need to apologize, and leave it at that, you don't try to explain away what you said by saying that you "meant" to say that the Washington parents are good people that want the best for their kids -- THATS NOT AN APOLOGY. Ginny lost all credibility with her dismissive and self congratulatory ways, its actually aquite nauseating to watch, even BOE threw her out as President, she's only left because only Slater ran and crushed her and Solomon, she barely held her seat. Have a nice day!
Fatima June 16, 2011 at 03:11 AM
well said...
Sally McBride June 16, 2011 at 12:55 PM
I am new to all of this. Since the big argument is that the parents do not want their kids split up, just send all washington kids to Edison and send all McKinley Students to Roosevelt. Instead of a north/south thing, have an east/west thing. Next problem please
Concerned Westfield Citizen June 16, 2011 at 01:26 PM
very well put.
South Westfielder June 16, 2011 at 01:27 PM
Well, Sally - it is a bit more complicated than that. Like you said - you are new to this.
cfa07090 June 16, 2011 at 01:29 PM
nicola: here's your data: http://education.state.nj.us/rc/rc10/dataselect.php?datasection[0]=environment&datasection[1]=information&datasection[2]=performance&datasection[3]=staff&datasection[4]=financial&c=39&d=5730&s=070&lt=CD&st=CD granted it's a bit dated, 2009-10 school year, but the transparency you request is out there. you just need to look for & stop expecting to be handed it by the BOE.
Concerned Westfield Citizen June 16, 2011 at 01:31 PM
I'm sorry, didn't we elect the BOE to handle this stuff? They ARE expected to handle this.
South Westfielder June 16, 2011 at 01:33 PM
40 minutes to get to Edison? Show me the data (pick up to drop off). Even if it does take that long, the distance between the two middle schools is so insignificant that it would add very little more time. It is ignorant to assume that Washington School district has borne the burden for the town. In fact, the Franklin District has been redistricted several times. Kids had to cross Mountain Ave to get to Wilson School. Those who lived in The Gardens had to walk or be driven to a school that was farther away as well.
Concerned Westfield Citizen June 16, 2011 at 01:35 PM
Come over and take the drive with me some morning or afternoon and enjoy the cross-town traffic Washington School parents are forced to endure. And yes, we are bearing the burden for the town. To say otherwise is just ignorant.
Sally McBride June 16, 2011 at 03:24 PM
I guess. It would stop people complaining on this subject and they will just make up a new one that will probably cause more trouble
Robert June 16, 2011 at 04:15 PM
Had the BoE shown reasonable evidence that redistricting Washington was the best choice I think the Washington parents would have accepted it. The problem is they were NEVER shown any reasonable evidence! In fact they showed evidence of their own that demonstrated that the redsitricting would cost more and cause over-crowding in Edison, both which are about to come true. The Washington kids definitely do not have the same middleschool experience as other kids. Besides the Washington kids being split from their closest friends, most of the Roosevelt kids are out playing with their friends by 2:50, while the redistricted kids are sitting on a bus until 3:35. That's a longer commute than I have for work! How is that an equal middleschool experience? Again, I feel the need to point out that it's not an unequal academic experience, both schools provide an excellent education, but that isn't the only factor in making the complete middleschool experience. Finally, the Washington kids DEFINITELY are bearing the burden of overcrowding for the town. They are the ones who were forced to make all the adjustments, ie. being bused for 40 minutes, missing their closest friends, less time for homework or with friends, etc. that other kids don't have to deal with. None of these are earth-shattering problems, and from what I've heard there aren't any kids who have had any problems, but you can't say it's an equal experience.
South Westfielder June 16, 2011 at 06:16 PM
CWC, perhaps you haven't lived in town long enough to have proper information about the districts that have been redistricted in the past. The Gardens extends well beyond the other side of Mountain Ave. They have been redistricted from Franklin to Wilson and then back to Franklin.
Concerned Westfield Citizen June 16, 2011 at 07:05 PM
I did not know that or the reasons behind that redistricting. However, I have lived here long enough to have the proper information that the Washington redistricting was unfair, shrouded in secrecy, and not properly thought out. I do know my children and their friends in our community would be delighted if their classmates were allowed to all go to middle school together as the Gardens children were able to. That would certainly rectify the gross injustice that Dolan and Ginny Leiz has forced upon us.
South Westfielder June 16, 2011 at 07:16 PM
I understand - if it didn't concern you or your kids, it wasn't important. Historical examples of how others in town have borne the burden of redistricting don't concern you. Now that you are impacted, it becomes "all about me" and an injustice has been put upon you, your children and your children's children. Face it, decisions made by the BOE, regardless of who is on it have implications whereby something is "forced" upon others.
Concerned Westfield Citizen June 16, 2011 at 07:21 PM
No you are missing the point and making mischaracterizations about my comments which I will not tolerate. Check my comments as I never said I didn't care about past redistrictings. As I stated, I NEVER KNEW of any. I admitted I didn't know about it or any of the circumstances involved. I am, however, glad that the Gardens neighborhood is whole again. Which is what the families from the Washington neighborhood want. So please, we don't need your lectures. And yes, an injustice has been put upon us. Sorry that you are unable to grasp that.
melissa June 16, 2011 at 07:39 PM
Walking home from Edison to the Jefferson area where I live and you are not home until 3:30. Kids can do there homework on a bus so they are not missing any play time. Use your so called 40 minutes of traffic wisely and when you get home, homework will be almost done. I road a bus to school my whole life what's the big deal!
Concerned Westfield Citizen June 16, 2011 at 07:55 PM
And I used to walk 2 miles to school, up and downhill, in blizzards, thunderstorms and scorching heat... Listen, that's all well and good, but we all know that 12-14 year olds are not going to do that. Plus, it's not exactly the prime learning environment.
Robert June 16, 2011 at 11:36 PM
If I recall correctly most of the Washington parents said they didn't want ANY kids to be redistricted. In fact, they showed the BoE that NOT redistricting would be more cost effective and would actually become better balanced in the coming years (Of course they didn't listen). Instead, by redistricting it is costing a lot more money in busing costs and extra teachers, and it is causing overcrowding at Edison. So all they did was shift the overcrowding issue from Roosevelt to Edison, while also waisting money. All they had to do was leave everything as it was and it would all have balanced out.
Christine Mason June 17, 2011 at 01:35 AM
Prospect Street Mom Messrs. Mattesich, Finn, and Slater are failing in their fiduciary responsibility to the children of Westfield by putting the wishes of their neighbors above the well-being of the other children at Roosevelt. Before redistricting, the overcrowding at Roosevelt was unacceptable. But the most feasible, environmentally sustainable way to redistrict is to have the children from farthest away be bused to the other school (Edison). These three BOE members have to grow up and put this whole redistricting issue in the past - and do the work that the taxpayers elected them to do instead of pushing their anti-districting agenda.
Mitch Slater June 17, 2011 at 02:12 AM
Madame Mason....I don't believe we have ever met and I would love to respond to your comments in person. Please feel free to speak up in Public at our next meeting at 302 Elm Street on June 28th at 8 PM. My interests lie with all students in Westfield, regardless of their location. I am sorry you have a different perspective and would like to hear your suggestions on this very difficult situation at our meeting on the 28th.
Robert June 17, 2011 at 03:29 PM
I disagree, and not because of my position on the redistricting issue. Mattesich, Finn, and Slater are investigating and searching for answers to a BoE decision (redistricting) that many people feel is causing more harm than good, ie. costing more and now causing overcrowding at Edison. I agree that the overcrowding at Roosevelt was a problem, but isn't overcrowding at Edison, which is now a concern, also a problem? As I said above, the Washington parents showed during the redistricting meetings that this was going to happen, and the board refused to listen, refused to provide accurate numbers, and refused to entertain any other options, one of which was to simply wait one year to see if another solution could be found. The way I see it is Mattesich, Finn, and Slater are the ones who ARE living up to their fiduciary responsibilities, and the ones who voted yes for the redsitricting are NOT, as the redistricting DID NOT solve anything! Lastly, as a related question, why did Mattesich have to practically beg Dolan's assisant for a copy of a print out of enrollment numbers? He said he has asked repeatedly for a copy of this and never got it. Why? Is it a secret? Shouldn't all the Board members (and the public) have access to this information?
Townie June 17, 2011 at 03:56 PM
Robert, You hit the nail on the head. Having watched the meeting on TV 36 last night, it was absolutely hysterical (if it wasn't so sad), the propaganda machine was in full spin mode. A parent with a kid redistricted to Edison with 30 kids in his math class at Edison asks for a side by side spreadsheet to be given to the public showing class by class data between the schools, with no response from Dolan (of course). Then when Dolan asks for clarification to a different question, her Assistant Sup't. Oneal walks up with the spreadsheet the parent wanted to see! She doesn't offer to share it with the public or the board members, and claims there are 27 in the class not 30 (I guess she's implying the parent's son doesn't know how to count) and so the VP Mattesich has to ask if he can get a copy since he's been asking for basically forever and never got it. Its like Abbott and Costello, who's on first, third base! What a joke! The lack of transparency is appalling.
Gary McCready June 17, 2011 at 04:29 PM
This shoud not be SOOOOO hard - the BoE should just agree on the relevant data, publish it to the web site, and update as needed. There are so many numbers pushed around by everyone, many incorrect (including some stated above), so just to point to the web site link and be done with it. Yeah, I've got data access withdrawl - if they ask correctly, all current BoE members can get all the data they want.
Townie June 17, 2011 at 04:32 PM
Mr. McCready, I actually agree with you. Just put it all on the website. Great idea. Maybe you can suggest this at public comments at the next board meeting and mention this to your ex-colleagues of same on behalf of the parents of Westfield. Thanks for this suggestion.
Robert June 17, 2011 at 04:47 PM
Mr. McCready, When you say "If they ask correctly", what exactly does that mean? Do they have to say "Please with sugar on top"?? I don't understand what you're saying. Mattesich said he has been asking repeatedly for a copy of the information that the Asst. Super. had in her hands and she NEVER gave it to him. Are saying it's because he didn't ask correctly? That ridiculous!! Anyway, I agree ALL the information should be made public. That's not to say the information will be correct, as eveidenced by past information that has been given, but at least it's a start.
Gary McCready June 17, 2011 at 04:59 PM
Being nice always helps ... it's like most things in life, you have to figure out who the right person is, and then get an ETA for when they can get it to you, or find out why not. Usually, one does not have to make a big issue of it in public if you follow up on your requests behind the scenes. But if it does come to that, you formally make a request to the superintendent, who does report to the Board, and ask when you can get the data, if at all. Of course, those of us in the public who would like to micro-manage the issue would love to have it all published!-)

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