North Arlington School Boundaries to Change

North Arlington School Boundaries to Change

School Board says measure designed to fight overcrowding; parents up in arms

Students in North Arlington could be attending different schools next year if the school board elects to redesign the district's boundaries.

The board voted Sept. 9 to create a committee to study reorganizing the boundary lines that determine which schools students attend. Comprised of school principals, parents and teachers, the committee is considering the boundaries of 11 elementary schools and will make recommendations to Superintendent Robert Smith. The reorganization, according to school board member Libby Garvey, is a response to overcrowding in many area schools and the best way to save tax money.

"We can't go to the tax payers and tell them we don't want to change boundaries so they're just going to have to pay more to create space in overcrowded schools," she said.

According to school district statistics, five elementary schools — Tuckahoe, McKinley, Nottingham, Science Focus and Taylor — are each in danger of exceeding capacity by 2006. The committee is now looking at four different scenarios to redraw the boundaries to alleviate overcrowding. For some schools, like Tuckahoe, the scenario only postpones overcrowding for a few years before it becomes a problem again.

Many parents are outraged at the prospect of being forced to move their children to a new and unfamiliar school. With a kindergartner at Longbranch Elementary, which borders an overcrowded school district, Eric Rosenberg said he feels as if his child is being moved for no reason.

"The epicenter of the attention is at Longbranch but the overcrowding problem is elsewhere," he said Wednesday. "We are being asked to solve somebody else's problem."

Rosenberg added that many parents doubt the school's data explaining the overcrowding problem.

"They don't have a set standard that's applied consistently throughout the county. No one can even agree on whether there is overcrowding," he said.

Yet administrators in Arlington schools contend overcrowding exists. Meg Tuccillo, the district's director of administrative services, said parents may not see the symptoms of overcrowding now but they will in the future unless something is done.

"Many of the North Arlington schools are exceeding capacity or are projected to exceed capacity in the coming years," she said Thursday.

The board has proposed several options for the special committee to explore, Tuccillo added. Redistricting is one. Moving certain programs to other schools is another.

"It leaves that option open for discussion," Tuccillo said. "We are working to include everybody, parents, teachers, everybody in the solution."

THE SCHOOL BOARD has repeatedly stressed public involvement in the proposed redistricting process but Steven Bennett, whose two children attend Longbranch, said the ideas discussed by the board could serve to break the community apart. One proposed plan would divide the district surrounding Ashton Heights, severing it from the Lion Park neighborhood.

"I oppose breaking up that neighborhood," he said. "Those two areas are extremely cohesive. There is a sense of community there and it's artificial to look at them as separate neighborhoods."

Bennett coaches little league baseball with a team comprised of children from both areas. Those teammates, he said, could be going to separate schools to solve a problem many think doesn't exist.

"I have real doubts the numbers on overcrowding are right," he added. "Keeping these neighborhoods together is a much greater concern. This proposed solution could end up being worse than the potential problem."

The committee is expected to make its recommendations to the superintendent by December. Tuccillo cautioned parents that any options the committee has discussed thus far are only speculation.

"It's a little premature to make any assumptions," she explained. "Anything that's been put out there so far is only an example."

According to Alison Denton, facilities planner, who sits on the committee, the committee is still weighing options.

"We don't have any real proposals on the table right now," she said.

But Rosenberg said any solution that causes his children to be relocated is unacceptable.

"I'd be willing to see our school take in students from other areas but not have ours moved to solve a problem somewhere else," he said. "It is arrogant and draconian for the board to come up with these options without even discussing it with parents. The idea of changing these boundaries was sprung just sprung on us. This whole thing has been suspect from the get-go."