Proposed School Rezoning Plan Unveiled To Relatively Few Public Comments

Schools Superintendent John Ravally describes the proposed rezoning plan May 16 at a special Board of Education meeting at Franklin High School.

There were more questions than comments May 16 when the school district’s proposed school rezoning plan was debuted to a packed house in the Franklin High School cafeteria.

That could be a good thing, in terms of keeping district on schedule for getting the entire redistricting project finished in time for the 2018-19 school year.

The rezoning plan is necessitated by the “One Less Move” project, which will result in a new elementary school on Claremont Road and a realignment of the district’s elementary and middle schools starting in the fall of 2018.

Schools Superintendent John Ravally described the proposed plan to those in attendance. He said he’d like the Board of Education to approve a rezoning plan – either this one or one tweaked a bit – by the end of June.

That’s because once the rezoning plan is approved, the district then has to start developing bus routes, then put those bus routes out for bid, he said.

Ravally said if there was not a lot of criticism of the plan at the May 16 session, the rezoning committee would not have to worry about tweaking the plan, and it could more easily be ready for final school board approval in six weeks or so.

The good news about rezoning plan as presented to the public, Ravally said, is that the average students’ bus ride to and from school will be “20 minutes or a little less,” and that fewer buses will be needed, resulting in a cost savings to the district.

“We stand at a place right now that we believe to be very solid,” Ravally said.

In a nutshell, the “One Less Move” project – for which residents passed an $85 million referendum in December 2014 – will change the district’s elementary schools into Pre-K to 5th Grade schools, and turn Sampson G. Smith and Franklin Middle schools into “one middle school with two campuses.”

The new configuration will give schools “room to grow,” Ravally said, and end the need for trailers at the schools.

“Kids will be back in school, where kids belong,” he said.

The new zoning plan also sought to address what Ravally called “geographic irregularities,” such as students who live in the area of Elizabeth Avenue School being bused to Conerly Road School, he said.

The new zones also seek to preserve in the schools the demographic diversity of various areas of the township, Ravally said.

“We worked had to create schools as best we could, while staying in geographic boundaries, that represent our community,” he said.

The “one school, two campuses” concept for the future middle schools will allow all middle school students to interact with each other as much as possible, Ravally said.

He said a sports program is being developed which will result in each school hosting different sports, with the district shuttling students to the schools they need to be at to practice or play.

Arts events, such as musical concerts, will also be shared between the schools, he said.

The idea, he said, is to bring the students together as often as possible so that “when they come to the 9th Grade, they’ll be one.”

Ravally said that not all students who are in the 5th Grade together will go to the same middle school.

“When you do things geographically, there is that potential that just because you’re in 5th Grade with somebody, that you won’t be assigned to the same middle school,” he said. “But the nice thing is that we will offer the same programs.”

Overall, Ravally said, the rezoning plan was meant to meet four goals:

  • minimize reassignment of 5th Grade students to new schools
  • increase transportation efficiency
  • eliminate overcrowding
  • consider demographic balance

Several parents in attendance asked questions regarding their own children, but there were some questions and comments about the plan as a whole.

Jonathan White asked what the committee which devised the rezoning plan did to ensure the schools reflect the socio-economic demographics of the township.

Ravally said the committee focusing on the middle schools took that question, and that the percentage of students who are on the Reduced Cost or Free lunch program – an indicator of poverty – hovered in the low 40s at the schools.

“It took some massaging of the boundaries to do that,” he said.

White also asked if there was a study that showed that it was better to have one middle school with two campuses, as opposed to two “rival” middle schools.

School board president Ed Potosnak said that the voters who approved the referendum chose that model in 2014.

“The board’s belief at the time was really looking at taxpayers and how we could deliver the most efficient education possible and which is also the most rigorous,” he said. “The feeling of the board was the schools are close enough together that we can offer a lot of these programs to our students for the best bang for the buck to our taxpayer.”

2017 Board of Ed Rezoning Meeting


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