No timetable for talks on school redistricting

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Some in the public are wondering about possibilities of Rome elementary school redistricting and reassigning of grades for buildings — but Board of Education members say while the topic is not forgotten, there is no timetable for decisions amid COVID-19.

The matter arose during a school district community forum Wednesday night on general education students’ upcoming return to classrooms Monday, and again at the Board of Education meeting Thursday night. Both sessions were held virtually, with the public accessing them in Zoom meeting formats.

During the forum, district Superintendent Peter C. Blake said a question was submitted “asking about redistricting...reassigning grades to schools for 2020-21.” He noted the board has “talked about that in the past,” and “prior to COVID the board was having conversations.”

Blake further commented that if the board has “a desire for us to investigate that, we will do that.” He said “there could be cost savings relative to restructuring and redistricting, absolutely.”

Potentially closing one of the district’s seven elementary schools as a cost-saving step had been mentioned during the board’s initial discussions for compiling the 2020-21 district budget, including in early March shortly before schools were closed for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year due to COVID-19. But by early May, the school district and board had opted against pursuing a school closure for 2020-21 that could have realigned grade configurations in buildings; difficulties in meeting directly with the public for input were cited, and the decision was for a 2020-21 budget to maintain staff and programs plus no tax increase, in light of the many uncertainties caused by COVID-19.

During Thursday night’s board meeting, board member John Nash said a submitted question asked “is there any discussion on redistricting, for any schools or reassigning grades? There is a rumor that elementary schools are going to be redistricted or reassigned by grades K-2 buildings, 3-5 buildings, etc.” In addition, Nash said the submission asked “is there any validity to the rumors?” and if so, would the “public be involved in these discussions?”

Board Vice President Tanya Davis said the topic was “up for discussion” but added “I don’t think that we’ve all given it any thought, because we’ve all been focused on going back to school,” regarding students’ return.

Nash said the public “will be involved when we get to that point” but “nothing’s been decided at this point.”

Board President Paul Hagerty remarked there was no secret “it was something we were looking at,” but “it hasn’t progressed.” Nash, who joined the board in July after being elected, said “I haven’t been involved in discussions since I’ve been on, so nothing’s going on actually right now.”

Later in the meeting, board member Jonathon Matwijec-Walda observed “it’s no secret that the board and the administration has been thinking about this. We’ve spoken publicly in general meetings for the last year-plus.” He also said “we’re not talking about this now because we have other things going on.”

He additionally said the matter involves being addressed at an appropriate time, and emphasized the importance of getting community input.

“I just didn’t want anybody to walk away, especially the individual asking tonight about this, to think that there’s any...nefariousness in our quiet,” Matwijec-Walda said. “It’s something that in my opinion...makes sense and needs to be done, but we can’t do it when this huge undertaking is also happening,” and “providing basic educational outcomes for students, opportunities for students, is a monumental task right now in ways that it usually isn’t.”

He said he did not think the district administration could be stretched thinner now to “ask them to do more work to figure out redistricting....”

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