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Folwell parents cry foul over redistricting plans

November 29, 2018

Muñoz

Rochester Public Schools officials want to hear from the public about preliminary plans to ease crowding in schools.

The school board voted unanimously Tuesday to ask the district’s facilities task force to draft questions for the public regarding plans that call for a new elementary and new middle school and rebuilding two others.

However, the board got some feedback before even asking a question. During a hearing before Tuesday’s school board meeting, parents of Folwell Elementary School students weighed in on the proposal to shift district boundaries for some Folwell families to Bamber Valley Elementary School.

Joanna Hadad pointed out her family lives just more than a half mile from Folwell but is more than two-and-a-half miles from Bamber. She said that would likely mean her three children who attend Folwell would take a bus to school most of the year instead of walk. Walking is healthier and allows them to be more involved in school and neighborhood activities, she said.

That sentiment was echoed by other Folwell parents.

Shawna Ehler, whose kids attend third and fifth grades at Folwell, said the route to the school from their home is shorter and safer than it would be to Bamber. She said the two walk with other neighborhood kids.

“It’s like a walking bus to and from school,” she said.

Jeremiah Heilman, father of two Folwell students with a third one who would enter kindergarten, described Folwell as a “destination elementary school.”

He noted the boundaries would draw students in 180 degrees instead of in all directions of the building.

Rochester Public Schools Superintendent Michael Muñoz said shifting district boundaries is something that would have to happen if a new elementary school is built.

“Taxpayers wouldn’t be happy if we built a new school and it was empty,” Muñoz said.

Christina Tillema noted that the district’s school boundaries and new building plans take walkability in account for students.

“If you want walkability, we’re doing that,” Tillema said, adding her family selected the home they moved into because it’s within walking distance of Folwell.

During the regular meeting, members of the facilities task force were given a go-ahead from the school board to draft questions regarding a preliminary $211 million proposal to expand the district’s capacity. Plans include building a 720-student elementary school in Northwest Rochester; a new 1,200-student middle school in Southwest Rochester; and expanding Bishop and Longfellow elementary schools to 720 students.

The questions would ask about those plans and other plans that affect facilities and programs, such as closing Friedell Middle School and moving programs to the new middle school; moving the Montessori program from Ben Franklin Elementary School to Hoover Elementary School; closing the middle school pools and building a competition pool at Century high School to take the number of district pool facilities from five to three.

Board member Mark Schleusner said drafting the questions doesn’t mean the district is committed to any specific plans.

“We’re just seeing if it’s plausible to put these schools where we’re proposing,” he said.

Other board members noted that choosing the plan to draft the queries around means the district is taking substantial steps toward a plan.

The task force agreed to submit questions for the public about the district’s proposal to the board in December.

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