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Residents Question Westfield BOE's Latest Redistricting Decision; Budget Adopted

Westfield School District mailed letters to seven families allowing them to have the option of choosing which intermediate school their fifth grader will attend.

Several Washington Elementary School parents questioned the Westfield Board of Education's decision to allow seven of the 27 families who have fifth graders bound for Edison Intermediate School as part of the five-year redistricting plan to decide which intermediate school they would like their children to attend.

During Thursday evening's public meeting held in the auditorium of Westfield High School, Lori Feinberg, Diane Dobosiewicz and Ginger Clarke-Walden said they only learned Wednesday that seven of their fifth graders' classmates-several of whom live on their block-will have the option of attending Roosevelt Intermediate School with the bulk of their peers, because they have a younger sibling who will attend RIS several years from now.

Feinberg argued that the Board "has it backwards" and said it should be the younger siblings who are given that choice when the redistricting ends in the 2014-2015 school year. She said two or three years from now those families may have moved or elected to send their children to private school. Feinberg also stated that in her opinion, Edison is now overcrowded, but believed the Board should "stick to the plan."

At a Board of Education meeting held in June of 2012, Westfield Schools Superintendent Dr. Margaret Dolan made a presentation which indicated that based on enrollment projections, middle schoolers should be able to return to their 2008-2009 attendance zones by the 2014-2015 school. The redistricting policy, which has to be approved each year by the Board, was approved for the 2012-2013 school year by a 4-3 vote. Board members Ginny Leiz, Ann Cary, Rosanne Kurstedt and Gretchan Ohlig voted to approve the measure. Meanwhile, Board President Rich Mattessich, then-Vice President David Finn and Mitch Slater voted against continuing the redistricting.

Slater and Ohlig were absent from Thursday evening's meeting. 

While all three parents said the Washington School community is close-knit and added that they like and respect the seven families who are being given this choice, they do not feel it is fair to their own children. Clarke-Walden said her daughter asked her why she did not have the same option and Clarke-Walden said she told her it was because she did not have a younger sibling. She added that she feels because she has chosen to have a small family, she is not being given the same choice. She noted that this is reminiscent of the Board's original redistricting decision, which impacted families in small houses. "I guess it's not good to be small in Westfield," she said.

"It's opening wounds again," she stated later.

Mattessich and member Lucy Biegler, who both serve on the long-range planning committee, stated that they did not want to put a fifth grader in the position of being forced to choose between going to school with an older sibling at Edison or going with friends to Roosevelt.

Clarke-Walden also questioned the "transparency" of the board as she said she and her neighbors were not made aware of this decision until they read Dolan's synopsis of Tuesday evening's Board meeting, yet letters had already been mailed to the seven families. 

Dobosiewicz, who has four children, three at different schools, questioned when the long range planning committee made the decision and if they, after hearing the group's concerns, would be open to reconsidering their decision. Biegler, Mattessich and committee chair Leiz said the decision had already been given plenty of consideration and was not entered into lightly.

Cary, also a member of the committee, said the committee was trying to be "responsive" to the request of these families. Biegler and Mattessich also noted the number of Washington students slated for Edison--20-is still in the ballpark of the original number-20 to 21-that have been sent each year.

Dobosiewicz, Clarke-Walden and Feinberg urged the Board to be "fair" and open up the decision to everyone. Or, Dobosiewicz and Feinberg suggested, the Board should stand by the original plan. Clarke-Walden, who noted she feels both schools are wonderful, said the Board might be surprised at how many families would choose Edison. She also noted that while she does not want the option to be taken away from the seven families, she would like to see it open to all families. 

Board member Brendan Galligan, raised and educated in Westfield, said if Board opened up the decision to all 27 families and 20 choose Roosevelt, the district wouldn't be able to support that choice. He said they would then have to enter those families into a lottery. Following the meeting, Galligan noted that during his time as a student in Westfield public schools, he had been through three redistrictings. 

At the meeting's conclusion, it was still unclear whether or not this decision would be reconsidered. 

Budget Adopted

The Board voted unanimously (minus Slater and Ohlig who were absent) to adopt the $96 million budget. Board vice-president Kurstedt said business administrator Dana Sullivan's presentation was a great summary of the multiple presentations that led up to the evening's vote. Cary asked if there were any changes made from the tentative budget the Board reviewed on Tuesday, March 19. Sullivan said there had been no changes. During the public hearing on the budget, no residents came forward to ask questions of the Board. To view the tentative $96,402,166 budget, updated on March 19, 2013, click here. 

Members of the Westfield girls and boys swim teams and boys cross country team were honored for their outstanding seasons. Check back with Patch later this weekend for more on the student athletes' achievements.

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