The Ithaca City School District Board of Education discussed a study regarding potential re-zoning based on socioeconomic conditions at its first meeting of the school year last night. Also on the agenda was a change in district policy regarding student eligibility for athletic teams, a recap of the first day of classes and a report on the performance of the 2004 summer school program.
“We have principals at two of our schools, including Ithaca High School. There is a strong emphasis on campus safety. The teachers in particular are happy with this emphasis,” said William Russell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, as he discussed the start of the 2004-05 school year.
The redistricting study is based on a report completed by administration officials that examined enrollment trends in the school district. According to a memo provided by the district, the purpose of the study was to enable the district to make predictions about whether changes will need to be made regarding enrollment, program placement, beginning and ending times of the school day and building capacity.
Currently, the school district has some buildings that are over capacity and others that suffer from a lack of enrollment. One of the key questions being debated by the board is the extent to which socioeconomic status should be taken into account in distributing children among schools. The district study revolved around the percentage of students in each school that are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
While the district as a whole has a poverty rate of about 25 percent to 30 percent, students eligible for the free or reduced-price lunch program, which is the measure by which the federal government assesses the poverty level of a district, are concentrated in a few city schools, particularly the Beverly J. Martin Elementary School, where 94 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch last year.
Some members of the board and audience were quick to defend the Beverly J. Martin school, noting that it compared favorably to other schools in the district in some performance standards.
“Low socioeconomic status students at BJM do better than low socioeconomic status students at other Ithaca schools,” said Board member Jeff Furman. Other members of the audience questioned the degree to which a school’s poverty rate affected its academic performance and questioned the value of potentially breaking up neighborhood schools.
“There is a very clear correlation between poverty and achievement. Ithaca city school district does not follow this pattern however. Our achievement is equivalent to a district with a 1 percent-5 percent poverty rate rather than a 25 percent to 30 percent poverty rate,” said BOE President Charles Bartosch.
Judith Pastel, superintendent of the school district, told people at the meeting that there were no current plans to undertake redistricting and any future decisions regarding the issue would fully involve the community.
“We don’t operate like Albany where there’s three people in a room behind the scenes making decisions,”Pastel said.
Archived article by Daniel Palmadesso
Sun Staff Writer