Fair Lawn Soft Borders


This page is in development and is based mostly on comments posted through Fair Lawn Moms and Dads Facebook Group. The first section summarizes points of concern about the version of the proposed policy that was posted on the Board of Education website in advance of the February 27, 2017 meeting. The second section is a list of questions about the policy itself and its potential ramifications. Some people are of the mindset that without the Board being fully able to answer these critical questions, it would be premature and irresponsible for the Board to adopt a “soft borders” policy proposal, especially since involuntary reassignment under the proposal would not apply to most affected children until 2018.

1. Concerns about the Proposed Policy

- Reassigned children will lose the benefit of attending their “neighborhood school” with their neighborhood friends.

- If newcomers will not be guaranteed to be able to attend their zoned elementary school, there will be less demand for homes in the Radburn and Milnes areas. This likely will likely drive down prices for properties and give homeowners grounds for appealing their current assessment based on comparable sales. Successful appeals would undermine the tax base for Fair Lawn as a whole.

- Students who are reassigned in elementary school will face no good choices as they transition to middle school, as it is highly likely that they will be reassigned to elementary schools that feed into a middle school that they are not zoned for. So if they move back to their zoned middle school, they will lose the social connections with their classmates from their reassigned elementary school. If they are given the choice to continue in their reassigned middle school, they miss the advantages of attending their neighborhood schools and will attend a middle school on the other side of town from their residence.

- The proposed policy gives the superintendent sole authority to involuntarily reassign children. There is no stipulation of how s/he must make these decisions and how s/he must do this process in a fair, accountable, and transparent way.

- The proposed policy places undue hardship on children without older siblings already in elementary school. Because children with older siblings in elementary school are excluded from involuntary reassignment, it makes current residents with the youngest children the most vulnerable.

- The proposed policy will increase classroom size in other elementary schools and very well might not “solve” the issue of long-term over-enrollment in more than just Milnes and Radburn.

- Even though some Board of Education members have described the policy change as “short-term,” there are no assurances at this time that the policy will expire after a specified term.

- Parents whose children are in walking distance from their zoned elementary schools might now have to drive their children to buildings that are farther away. This is not just a matter of convenience for many, whose work schedules simply do not allow them to pick up and drop off their children by car. They will incur additional expenses to hire others to do this on their behalf, will need to make sacrifices at work, and/or to pay for before- and after-care.

- There is evidence on social media that the proposed policy change is already creating intensely negative feelings among Fair Lawn community members, pitting parents against each other, and causing acrimony among a large number of residents and the Board of Education and interim superintendent.

- Many families purchased their homes in Milnes and Radburn expressly for the zoned elementary school. The “soft borders policy” undermines the primary reason why they moved to Fair Lawn in the first place.

2. Questions about the Policy and Its Potential Effects

- How many children does the school district plan to reassign over the coming school years? What proportion of households in Radburn and Milnes are likely to be reassigned? Is it really just a few, or would it be more extensive than that?

- How much of an increase in class size would the elementary schools receiving the additional students experience?

- How exactly would the policy apply to a family whose oldest child is in middle school (i.e., Thomas Jefferson for the Milnes and Radburn district) and whose youngest child is entering kindergarten?

- How is “overcrowded” determined in the first place? Are there legal definitions? Definitions from research studies? Definitions according to Fair Lawn Board of Education policy itself? Under the authority of the superintendent? What are the maximum capacity numbers for all elementary school buildings?

- What are the projections on how the “soft borders” policy change would affect demand for real estate, final sale prices, property values, and Fair Lawn’s overall tax base in the short- and long-term? How might the policy change slow down the conversion of smaller homes to larger homes in the Milnes and Radburn areas especially?

- Out of an issue of fairness and the best interest of all children of Fair Lawn, could not the policy be revised so that all current residents as of July 1, 2017—regardless of the age of their children—are able to attend their zoned school?

- Has there been a systematic analysis about the effects of “soft borders” policy changes in other communities that are similar to Fair Lawn, looking at various outcomes beyond the issue of enrollment numbers?

- On what specific grounds is the Board of Education not projecting that a “soft borders” policy change would also apply to middle schools?

- Are all four elementary schools besides Milnes and Radburn being considered for additional enrollment through involuntary assignment? What about Warren Point  specifically, which feeds into the same middle school as Milnes and Radburn and is geographically closer for families in the Milnes area?

- Could families involuntarily re-assigned be given some choice as to which elementary school they are re-assigned to?

- What other short-term alternatives are there to increasing enrollment at Milnes and Radburn besides a “soft borders” approach? Are there less extreme options to pursue before resorting to “soft borders”?

- How large are the projected classroom sizes per grade level in Radburn and Milnes without modifying school zoning policy? How large would these projections be if the policy applied only to newcomers after July 1, 2017? To what extent is classroom size at the elementary school level associated with school and student performance indicators?

- How will the district cover the cost of transportation for children who live two miles away from their reassigned school? Would the district provide transportation for those families that choose to attend the middle school outside of their zoned area if they live two or more miles away?

- Why not start with a voluntary reassignment policy instead of “soft borders”? This means that parents who are concerned about large classroom sizes in elementary school could voluntarily elect to send their child to another Fair Lawn elementary school with fewer children.

- What are the specifics concerning the long-term solutions that the Board of Education considering?

- What exactly needs to be in place to re-open the Edison School as a longer-term solution to increasing student enrollment at Milnes and Radburn? If proposing a referendum to fund this effort, how much money would need to be raised and what would this mean in terms of how much Fair Lawn residents would pay? How long would it take to complete the renovations if funding were available? Are there ways to re-open Edison and move administrative offices without a referendum to raise funds from residents? What are projections for these questions if particular state policies are adopted that would direct a larger proportion of Fair Lawn taxpayer money to Fair Lawn schools?

- Why can’t the Board use additional tax revenue from increasing property values to hire additional teachers, even if those teachers double up with other teachers in the same classroom to manage a large group of students? Or why can’t funds be reallocated to hire additional paraprofessionals for especially large classes?

- Can there be limits placed on the adoption of the “soft borders” policy? For example, could the Board of Education provisionally approve it only for a fixed amount of time to better ensure that it is indeed a “short-term” strategy?

- What is the estimated number of children from Milnes and Radburn who would be removed from the elementary school by implementing a better system to check children’s resident status? How might this bear on projections for enrollment in the schools over the coming years?

- To what extent is the municipality considering school enrollment issues when approving future plans for the building of new housing?

- Would the Board consider having a poll of the community conducted regarding various proposed policy changes as part of their efforts to consider the desire of the public before making any final decisions?

Last updated: February 26th 2017
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