Some Avalon parents call BOE proposal 'discriminatory"™
Superintendent of Darien Public Schools Donald Fiftal said shifting elementary school students who live in the Avalon apartment complex from the Holmes district into Tokeneke "was just an amazing find." Avalon parents say it's "spot districting," which only offers a Band-Aid solution to a problem and "feels quite discriminatory."
Currently, the district anticipates 30 students who live in the Avalon apartment complex to re-enroll in elementary school next academic year. Traditionally, these students have attended Holmes School, but last week Fiftal told the board that extensive savings could be achieved by sending these students to Tokeneke School instead. This shift would eliminate the need for three teaching positions at Holmes, which, at an average salary of $62,000 per teacher, would save the district $186,000. Eliminating the need for a double-portable classroom at the school would raise the total savings to $350,000.
"It's sort of a dramatic result in two ways," Fiftal said during Tuesday night's Special BOE meeting. "Number one was the savings ... but secondly, also, is the human impact, because we are not a district that makes a practice of moving students. ... We want to maintain consistency and keep students in their home school."
A savings of $350,000 was not something Fiftal was able to ignore, he said.
"A total of $350,000 savings in this budget year is remarkable," he said. "In other budget years, when we haven't gotten the budget we have, we haven't gotten into shifting enrollment around."
Fiftal also addressed the impact the shift can have on families.
"For any parent, this is a very significant proposal, and very meaningful, and I do understand that. So in addition to addressing the budget piece of this, is the need on our part to address the human impact," he said. "Should the Board of Education approve the proposal and make it part of the recommended budget, we would then move forward with a transition plan to ensure that the parents and students feel welcome."
Steve Chin, an Avalon resident who has a son in second grade and another in fourth grade at Holmes School, addressed the board on behalf of a group of more than 60 Avalon parents, who have banded together under the name "Voices for Avalon Children," and relayed his concerns.
Chin and his family moved to Darien from New York City about a year-and-a-half ago, and are looking to "see our boys get some stability," which would be disrupted if they were sent to a different school next year, he said. He handed members of the BOE a letter, written by members of Voices for Avalon Children, which outlined several concerns he and others had with the plan.
"In addition to spot districting, the decision feels quite discriminatory, both from an economic standpoint as Avalon is the only rental community within Darien available to families with school-age children, as well as from an ethnic diversity standpoint," the letter states.
"It is our position that Mr. Fiftal is using our children to Band-Aid a very real problem the Town has faced, and continues to face," the letter says.
Chin reiterated this fact while speaking to the board.
"Our children are human beings, and we don't really think this is right," he said.
Avalon children currently travel 1.4 miles to school, but the proposed change would more than double their bus route, and bypass Hindley School, which is closer to the apartment complex than Tokeneke is.
The Voices for Avalon Children request three things in the letter:
"The busing of Avalon students to an elementary school that is not a logical choice and should logistically be pulled out of the budget as a line item and properly analyzed in relation to the Town's overall overcrowding issue at the elementary school level," is the first request.
The second request asks for "[a] committee to be formed to complete a study ... to explore any and all options in which the district can address enrollment imbalances on a long-term basis instead of committing knee-jerk reactions at every fluctuation in enrollment patterns."
Finally, the parents request, "[b]efore any final decision is made by the Board of Finance and/or the Board of Education, a legal opinion be obtained from the Town's attorney on the issue of spot districting, involving ethnic and economic issues, within a town in Connecticut."