The School Committee on Nov. 5 voted 4 to 1 to embrace a map-based redistricting plan that will permanently shift boundary lines for the district’s five elementary schools. The changes will impact as many as 215 of the town’s 2,219 elementary students for the 2013-14 school year.
The committee’s decision came as a surprise to many parents who had followed the redistricting process. At the series of School Committee meetings and the public hearing that was held in advance of the vote, an A a series of meetings, an overwhelming majority of parents, and Superintendent William McAlduff Jr., had expressed preference for a parent-sponsored plan that would have moved kindergarten students out of crowded schools and into classrooms in buildings that are under capacity. The students would have returned to their home schools for the remainder of their elementary years.
The net effect of that “K-flex” model would have been that some kindergarten students would have been assigned to a school outside their neighborhoods, but would have returned to their home schools for the remainder of their elementary years.
The school district had worked toward adopting a redistricting plan for about a year, spurred by ballooning enrollment and to ensure that the new Vinson-Owen Elementary School opens in September with enough students to satisfy the Massachusetts School Building Authority, which is paying 40 percent of the $28 million project.
As district officials weighed their options for redistricting, the Winchester Multicultural Network urged the School Committee “to ensure that important multicultural issues are considered in the process of adopting and implementing new district lines.”
The nonprofit pointed to the “serious hardship” that it said a change in school assignments could create for families of limited financial means, and the impact that a sudden swell in the percentage of students who come from single-family households, households with two parents working outside the home, or households of limited financial means, would have on parent volunteer hours and PTO funding.
According to the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 78.8 percent of Winchester’s 4,396 students in pre-K through Grade 12 are white; 13.1 percent are Asian; 3.5 percent are multi-race non-Hispanic; 3.2 percent are Hispanic; and 1.1 percent are African-American. In addition, English is not the first language of 12.4 percent of all students; 14.9 percent are special-education students; and 5.9 percent are low-income under state guidelines.
Enrollment projections published on the Winchester redistricting website show the plan will result in a disproportionate number of high-needs students at the Lynch Elementary School, which has been characterized by state education officials as underperforming for failing to meet federal benchmarks for student progress.
Under state guidelines, high-needs students are those who receive special-education services, live in low-income households, or are English language learners.
The district’s projections show the number of high-needs students in grades 1 to 5 at Lynch will stand at 111 in September, higher than at the Ambrose, 58; Muraco, 61; Vincent-Owen, 72; and Lincoln, 79.
McAlduff said the school department is in the process of gathering the information requested by the Office for Civil Rights and understanding the issues involved.
“We will put the information together and take it from there,” he said.
Brenda J. Buote may be reached at email@example.com.