Rome BOE committee on redistricting meets today

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At its last regular meeting of 2021, the Rome Board of Education formed an ad hoc committee to focus on redistricting. Board Vice President Tanya Davis raised her hand to chair, so President John Nash promptly appointed her to head the effort.

Members who will serve with Davis on the committee include Craig Ferretti; Elena Reddick-Cardwell; Board Clerk Dr. Karen Fontana; and Joe Mellace. The ad hoc committee will hold its first meeting today at 4:30 p.m. at the district offices on Bell Road. The meeting, which was announced late Tuesday morning, is open to the public.

The issue of forming the committee came late on an agenda that saw redistricting emerge in discussions during the work study session, featuring a presentation by construction managers from the district’s architects and accompanying financials on capital project repairs and upgrades proposed as a result of the most recent district building survey.

The costs being considered sparked debate among members about whether any but the most pressing repairs should be made pending a decision on a redistricting plan that addresses acute instructional issues such as crowded classrooms.

“My biggest problem is that I don’t know how bad things are in the elementary schools right now,” said board member Paul Hagerty, during his update as Chair of the Facilities Committee.

Hagerty revisited “unknowns” such as district population growth that have been the subject of assumptions since quickly being covered in the presentation to the Board in November by Ross Haber & Associates, the redistricting consultant engaged by the district.

The Haber principals reported that enrollment in the Rome district has remained steady for several years by the metrics they use to evaluate and expect that trend to continue, despite two planned residential housing developments slated for the immediate future. Haber predicted an increase in enrollment of less than 100 students year-on-year resulting directly from those developments.

Several members have wrestled with the reliability of that presumption.

Hagerty added to those concerns what he identified as “a lot of rental units” in Rome, where people come and go more frequently, causing an unpredictability of the impact on individual school catchment zones.

Hagerty expressed fears that the board will struggle to achieve the balance between schools that seek as part of the redistricting effort.

“Regardless of what we do long-term,” said Hagerty, “I think the short-term answer is to address that.” 

Davis suggested a dedicated Facilities Committee meeting to discuss the content of the work study presentation in the context of redistricting in order to “have something ready” for the regular meeting on January 27, the last meeting prior to a deadline advanced by Blake of February 7 in order to avoid remarkable delays with the project.

Mellace pointed out that such an effort would be futile, where the managers who made that evening’s presentation had offered to “get back to” him regarding pointed questions and Ross Haber & Associates were still revising their proposals after intense feedback was shared at the community presentation on November 29.

“People were put off by grade-banding at the November 29 meeting,” said Davis, “but banding is what will reduce catchment zones.”

Blake crystallized the concerns to say that “SEQR is the key” – referring to the State Environmental Quality Review. “If it doesn’t affect SEQR,” said Blake, “you can move things around.” 

Ferretti agreed with colleagues that the balancing of catchment zones must be central to redistricting decisions.

“We do need to look at catchment areas,” said Ferretti, “regardless of what Ross and his people show us.”

Blake reminded the Board that Ross Haber would have a “different rendering” than the most recent proposals discussed by the first week of January.

“I don’t think we’re at the point where we can trade off things that are being proposed as part of capital improvement programs versus accommodating students at the elementary schools,” concluded Mellace.

Said Davis, the new ad hoc committee chair on redistricting, “seems like we have a lot to talk about.”

Davis summarized what she considers to be key objectives for the ad hoc committee to include creating an overall agenda for the committee’s meetings, tracking the progress of established redistricting goals, ensuring that the priorities established by the Board’s Educational Services committee are being addressed by redistricting proposals and, specifically, determining what the district considers the “ideal” class size to be. Davis proposed that committee members kick off their efforts by exchanging emails to brainstorm ideas prior to their first meeting.

Blake shared that Ross Haber plans to attend the first meeting of the ad hoc committee.

“Everything he’s shown you is already different,” said Blake.

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