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Opinion

(The following letter was sent to the Board of Education and is printed here at the writer's request.)

I want to thank you for the chance to listen to the superintendent and his staff present the redistricting plan and I appreciate both effort and intense difficulty required in putting together a plan like that, in a place like Port Washington where the geographic arrangement of the elementary schools make the job of redistricting especially challenging. My appreciation and thanks to those who take on this challenge.

I live on Bogart Avenue in the Park Section "box" that was designated to attend the Guggenheim school. I am the father of a first-grader currently at Guggenheim, obviously with a significant stake in the outcome of this process.

And I use the word "box" because that is how the kids who live there will remember it, as a box they were placed in when they almost had the opportunity to walk to school, a chance I think cannot be ignored because in this district it is one that is all too rare.

The "box" represents compromise at its worst. These children are both losing the benefit of being able to walk to the neighborhood school as well as being isolated from the majority of their peers both current and future.

Now let's talk about the parents of the kids in that "box". All are working people, many are families where both parents work and face the difficulties of juggling all those responsibilities two-parent working families must deal with. Unfortunately, we already live in a world with too much isolation. And the isolation created by that "box" from the rest of the elementary community will be yet another burden on all parents in the "box", in having to shuffle kids back and forth to the contiguous areas of the elementary district. And who will pay the price for those difficulties? The kids will.

Does this box really form a viable community from the kids perspective? If there's two busloads of kids or approximately 100 kids (since the detailed maps were not published, this is my guess) or about 16 per grade or about three per class that are in the local area. No one certainly thinks this number forms a critical mass of any sort. In my own experience with my older son, most of his elementary interactions were with kids outside of the "box". The opportunities for those interactions will be much more limited under this new scenario.

Transportation issues, just add to the already high traffic volume passing through the area. At bus time in the morning these kids will pass every day through the traffic jams along Port Blvd. These kids will spend perhaps a thousand extra and unnecessary hours sitting in stand-still traffic on Port Blvd. This does not even address the late busser/early busser situation already so prevalent at least at Guggenheim. There's no sense that I can see to making that many kids spend so much extra time on the bus. Even if some of the kids in this area would need to be bussed to Salem, at least those buses would not have to pass through the high traffic zones.

And I'm sure there are many parents on those streets north of Main Street on North Bayles and North Maryland and vicinity who are scratching their heads about why their kids are being bussed in the opposite direction to Salem when other schools are considerably closer.

It's hard to see how any of this makes any sense.

We do understand that this is a gerrymander to meet district imposed "quotas". (I know the term gerrymander has a negative connotation, but this situation certainly fits the definition). In this scheme it looks like literally several hundred children are going to schools unnecessarily farther from where they live to satisfy a small number, and from the people who spoke up at the meeting, it sounds like not all of them are happy to have their children sprinkled about like pawns either.

My understanding of the EEOP issue was that there was not enough minority participation in certain programs like the PEP program, something that has nothing whatsoever to do with this plan.

Finally, we heard that there was an overwhelming number of parents from "the box" who accepted the solution, "if we can't go to Salem, we should all go to Guggenheim together". Clearly this was not the opinion of all those from that neighborhood who chose to speak Tuesday night. And what's more not a single speaker from the audience chose to stand up to defend that other position. One can only assume, for those present at that meeting that it was at best a poor second choice, not a green light to propose something as unfair to the children as the current proposal.

Finally, there's the legacy of this decision, and the effects on the children and the district over the long term. Will it be perceived as a benefit to the district and the students? I suppose that after the fact these students will remember that missed opportunity to actually attend a neighborhood school was taken from them. This is a yearning that seemed prevalent through many of the comments relating to this and other issues, and one that I hope the district will have the wisdom to consider.

And finally should this configuration remain in place, the students will not understand the rationalizations for this decision. It is the missed opportunities that will be remembered by today's students and those that follow.

I hope that the administration and board will have the good sense and compassion to reconsider this configuration and join the "box" with the local area attending Salem, completing this neighborhood school.

Thanks for taking the time to read and listen to our thoughts.

And thanks for your consideration.

Barry Tuch


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