Saturday April 6, 2013

DAWSON RASPUZZI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Bennington School District finalized its new school attendance zones Wednesday -- designating new schools for more than 10 percent of its students this fall.

The updated redistricting plan will impact as many as 85 families and from 89 to 103 students. The 14 students going into fifth grade in the fall who are assigned new schools will be given the option to finish their elementary education at the school they now attend, however the other 89 students in lower grades will be assigned new schools.

Adjusted school attendance zones were necessary to meet the increased population in Bennington Elementary's attendance zone, which caused class sizes to increase and students to be assigned to other schools in town.

"With the combination of a shifting of our population and our class size policy that changed a year and a half ago ... we saw some very significant variances in class sizes throughout the district in various buildings," Chief Financial Officer Richard Pembroke explained to an audience at Wednesday's school board meeting.

The impacted neighborhoods include lower Dewey and Grant streets (from Monument Elementary to Bennington Elementary); Jefferson Heights and its offshoots south of Merson Street, and Harwood Drive (from Bennington Elementary to Monument); and the southern end of Route 7, Fuller Road, Carpenter Hill Road, and Middle Pownal Road and its offshoots (from Molly Stark Elementary to Bennington Elementary).


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"The way our software works is we design neighborhood cells around natural geographical boundaries for the town of Bennington ... we have something like 80 different neighborhood cells in our software and we can pick and choose (which ones to move)," Pembroke said.

The factors considered when deciding which cells to move was balancing class sizes among the schools, having as minimal an impact on families as possible, and establishing more efficient bus routes.

While bus routes had the least impact of the three during the decision process, Pembroke said redistricting will significantly improve the routes that have grown progressively worse as students have been assigned to schools outside their attendance zone in recent years.

"Our bus routes have gotten convoluted with kids attending multiple schools from the same neighborhoods for a whole host of reasons," Pembroke said.

In addition to solving other problems, redistricting saved the district the expense of hiring an additional teacher that would have been required otherwise, Pembroke said.

The school board in January approved redistricting for the first time since 2007, but Wednesday was the first time details on the new attendance zones were made public. Schools mailed letters to parents Thursday informing them of the changes, but parents who have questions are encouraged to call their child's current building principal or the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union's administrative offices for more information.

Superintendent Catherine McClure said in rare cases a family may be allowed to send their child to a school outside their attendance boundary after making a request in writing that details extenuating circumstances why an exemption should be granted.

"There's always the compelling reason, and I really have to emphasize it must be a compelling reason if you feel that your child should attend a different school. We really are very strict about researching and considering (exemptions)," McClure said.

Families previously granted an exemption will have to request a new exemption in the fall. "Principals will be contacting them to let them know they need to write a new letter, just so that we're all starting from the same place," McClure said.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com or follow on Twitter @DawsonRaspuzzi