Redistricting plans now in full swing

Photo by Ron Leir/ Supt. Tracey Marinelli displays school redistricting map. The district hopes to balance class size starting this fall.


By Ron Leir


Fifteen months after taxpayers voted down a $37 million referendum built around a proposed new middle school, Lyndhurst public school leaders are now scrambling to balance class size, deliver more effective instruction to grades 6 to 8 in particular, and import new technology, starting this fall.

And it’s all being done with less financial impact on property owners.

Although the district figures to spend about $300,000 more than last fiscal year — $32.9 million for 2012-2013, versus $32.6 million for 2011- 2012 – the average school tax bill will drop by $135, from $3,844 to $3,709, thanks to a combination of “zero-based school budgeting,” increased state aid and a township property reassessment, according to district Business Administrator David DiPisa.

DiPisa said that new budget will fund:

• New math textbooks for kindergarten through grade 5 and a new reading series for K to grade 2.

• A new roof on Lincoln School, replacement of rear and basement windows at Columbus School and new windows and bathrooms at Franklin School.

• Leasing of iPads for grades 6 to 12 and 400 computers district-wide from Apple at a cost of $1.4 million over four years. (As of May 1, all classrooms will be equipped with Smart Boards and MacBook Air laptops which allow for interactive board work.)

All of these moves will be happening against a backdrop of redistricting or “reconfiguration,” as characterized by Schools Supt. Tracey Marinelli.

Starting with the new school term in September, elementary school assignments are being restructured this way:

One group of students will start at Washington School for kindergarten to grade 3, then move to Lincoln School for grades 4 to 8.

Another group will start at the Prevost Building at Lyndhurst Recreation Center for kindergarten before moving to Franklin School for grades 1 to 3, then shift to Roosevelt School for grades 4 to 8.

A third reconfiguration has kids attending kindergarten at Jefferson Community Annex, then moving to Columbus School for grades 1 to 3, and Jefferson School for grades 4 to 8.

It is hoped that the restructuring will eliminate overcrowding in certain grades and balance out any numerical inequities among schools. “Right now, we have class sizes that range from some as low as 15 to one grade 5 class that has 39,” Marinelli said.

With the reshuffling, the district should realize an “average class size of 26,” with the probable exception of this fall’s incoming first grade sections which, Marinelli figures, could go as high as “29 to 30.”

As of last month, Marinelli said that of the approximately 2,500 parents and/or guardians who’ve been asked to “re-register” their children for the fall term, as per the new school assignments, 48 have yet to respond. Sixty parents and/or guardians have asked for reconsideration of the assignments and a committee is reviewing those appeals, she said.

Part of the re-registration process requires parents and/or guardians to verify they are bona fide residents of Kearny. They were reminded that they will be liable for tuition fees if it’s proven they aren’t living in town.

During the past school year, Marinelli said the district uncovered 15 non-resident students – “at least one in every (grammar school) building” – and all are now “gone.”

Another facet of the district reconfiguration that Marinelli and her staff are shepherding through is the re-assignment of “more than 50” administrators, teachers and clerks. Some of those transfers are prompted by 15 employee retirements taking effect June 30, the superintendent said.

The Kearny Education Association, which has the right to challenge any involuntary employee transfers, has filed “no grievances,” according to Marinelli. “Before we did the transfers, we had employees tell us their three top choices of schools they’d prefer to go to,” she noted.

School time schedules are also being tinkered with, Marinelli said, “so that each grade level cluster (K, 1-3, 4-12) will have varying start and end times which allow for easier drop-off and pickup for parents and guardians.”

There is also some physical reconfiguration that will happen. For example, kids in grades 6 to 8 will occupy classrooms currently containing kindergarteners for science instruction and those classrooms will be adjusted to provide lab tables and running water for experiments and, additionally, each grammar school building will be equipped with a computer room and at least one classroom devoted to an elective such as art and music, Marinelli explained.

“We’re looking to reinstate some teacher stipends to accommodate certain student clubs like Junior National Honor Society, newspaper, Future Business Leaders of America and technology,” Marinelli said.

Plus, for grades 4 to 8, Marinelli said the district wants to create “tiered academics” aimed at targeting instruction to children operating “at, below or above” grade level “so that students can receive daily remediation or enrichment as needed and a greater concentration on academic excellence.”

Marinelli said the district web site will be updated periodically to keep the school community aware of new developments as they occur.

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