Fair Lawn Soft Borders


*Note: This information is in reference to the proposed policy posted on a Board of Education website on February 23, 2017. A link to this version of the policy can be found under "Copy of BOE Proposal" tab.*

What does “soft borders” mean?

“Soft borders” has to do with the way that school districts zone households for one school building versus another. Currently, Fair Lawn has a “hard borders” policy in place. This means that children who live in a residence within particular geographic borders are assigned to go to a specific elementary school zone(one of six) and a specific middle school zone (one of two). (All Fair Lawn children currently all belong to one zone for high school.) “Soft borders” means that children living within an area that is zoned for a particular school might not actually go to that school. Board of Education policy would allow them to be reassigned to a school outside of their zone.

What is the “soft border” policy that the Board of Education is considering as of February 23, 2017?

The policy proposal posted on a Board of Education website can be found under "Copy of BOE Proposal" tab. Here are some key points about the proposal:
  • The proposal gives the Fair Lawn superintendent the authority to reassign individual children from schools that are considered over-enrolled.
  • The proposal excludes families who already have a child enrolled in elementary school before July 1, 2017. This means the policy would not apply to children entering kindergarten who have an older child in a Fair Lawn elementary school already. It also would not apply to any child enrolling for kindergarten before July 1, 2017.

So who actually is affected by the proposed policy?

It depends how you define “affected.” Fair Lawn residents in the Milnes and Radburn elementary school districts (where over-enrollment is a concern) whose oldest child will not enter kindergarten before the fall of 2018, are vulnerable to involuntary reassignment. This policy might also apply to families with one child in middle school and high school, and a younger child entering kindergarten in 2018 or later.  Also, any families new to Fair Lawn after July 1, 2017, with elementary school children—regardless of their age—would be vulnerable to involuntary  reassignment.

But there are many other Fair Lawn residents who are also potentially affected by this policy proposal. First, there is concern that anybody who owns property in the Milnes or Radburn neighborhoods will experience a loss in the value of their investment. Demand for homes in these locations might decline because new residents will not be guaranteed which elementary school their children will attend, which is a key consideration for many families who choose to buy real estate in these areas. This will drive down prices for final sales, and remaining homeowners could successfully appeal their property assessments by demonstrating lower comparable sales. The loss of property value is not just a financial concern for residents in the Milnes and Radburn areas. Loss in property values can undermine the tax base for Fair Lawn schools and the municipality as a whole .

Some residents outside of the Milnes and Radburn neighborhoods are also concerned about an influx of additional children to their neighborhood elementary schools. They fear that class sizes will grow significantly in coming years under this policy and that the quality of their children’s education will be jeopardized.  

How would the superintendent decide who gets reassigned and who gets to go to their neighborhood school?

There is very little stated in the policy proposal itself as of February 23, 2017, to answer this question. There is no mention, for example, of a formula, a lottery, other set criteria, or general guidelines for the superintendent’s re-assignment. For example, one might presume that only children who live on the border between two school districts would be reassigned. But there is nothing stated in the proposal itself to indicate that this would be considered in reassignment. In effect, any family whose oldest child will not enter kindergarten until fall of 2018, as well as any family with elementary-school children who move into Radburn and Milnes in July of 2017, are vulnerable to involuntary reassignment. The proposal only states that “Transportation will be considered in accordance with the Board’s regulations on providing transportation.” It is not clear from the policy proposal itself what this means.

Why are we even talking about all of this in the first place?

The precipitating issue is a significant increase in student enrollment at the Milnes and Radburn elementary schools. Refer to http://bit.ly/2lJAXDo for more information. Some people have expressed that “soft borders” is the best “short-term” solution to remedy this situation. Others argue that there are better alternatives than “soft borders,” or that it is premature for Board of Education members to move forward with the “soft borders” approach because there has not been thorough enough analysis of the ramifications of the proposed policy.

Who gets to decide whether Fair Lawn adopts “soft borders”?

The Fair Lawn Board of Education would need to vote publicly on this matter twice. A simple majority rules. There are nine Board of Education members—all of whom are elected. They operate as a separate entity from other locally elected officials, such as the mayor and council members. For more information about the members, see http://bit.ly/2lUDqvs.

What is the meeting on February 27, 2017, all about? Is this the first time the proposed policy is being discussed? When was the proposed policy made available to the public?

A Board of Education Policy Committee meeting is to be held on Monday, February 27, 2017, at 8 P.M. at the Fair Lawn High School. The meeting is dedicated to discussion of the proposal. According to a post by the Board of Education President on Fair Lawns Moms and Dads: “The way policies work are: We discuss them at a policy meeting, make a decision regarding them, and if the board approves of them, then they need to be voted on at the next two public board meetings before they are officially adopted.” He further wrote, “It's a public meeting, with time for questions…The meeting will be open for public comments.” Prior to this meeting, the Board of Education President commented that the matter was discussed in a recently discussed advertised work session, that the Board informed the PTA Councils of the proposal at the PTAs’ last meetings, and that the Board posted the “usual” meeting announcements on the school’s website and in the Bergen Record. They also posted about the Education Policy Committee meeting on five Facebook pages. The proposed policy was not made available at first when the meeting was announced; after requests from community members to review the proposal before the February 27 meeting, materials were posted on a Board of Education webpage beginning as of February 23, 2017.

Last updated: February 27th 2017 8AM
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