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School board approves plan

| Monday, Jan. 13, 2003

New Kensington-Arnold School Board this week approved a redistricting plan to take effect next year that essentially splits the Edgewood Elementary School population between Greenwald and Martin elementary schools and balances their minority populations.

Edgewood will close at the end of the year in a cost-saving measure after district officials spent years debating the school's fate. A handful of the school's pupils will go to Fort Crawford Elementary School as well.

A small number of pupils who were bused to Edgewood from outside the school's immediate drawing area also could be affected by the plan, Superintendent Tom Wilczek said.

In an effort to offset racial imbalances in the schools, the majority of Edgewood's minority population will be sent to Martin while the majority of Edgewood's white population will go to Greenwald.

The minority population — which is about 29 percent in the district — is lower at Martin than at the other schools, said Lynn Buczynski, Greenwald principal. There are about twice as many minority pupils this year at Fort Crawford than at Martin.

There are also fewer pupils, in general, at Martin than at the other schools. The low numbers forced district officials to eliminate a first-grade class at Martin this year.

Since 1992, district officials have kept a close eye on demographics after the state handed down a desegregation order. Correcting the problem, at the time, set off heated debates and forced district officials to request more time from the state to meet its mandate.

The plan adopted at Wednesday's board meeting is New Kensington-Arnold's first redistricting since 1994 when the board approved boundary changes to appease the state. It also allows district officials to balance class sizes in the schools.

Next year, each of the classes — first-, second- and third-grade classes only — at the three elementary schools will have from 19 to 24 pupils. District officials said balancing class sizes was as much of a priority as balancing minority populations.

"We tried to equalize class sizes to give everyone the same educational opportunity," Wilczek said. "We're doing this for consistency."

Former school board member Thom King said achieving a racial balance is important, but might require the district abandoning another concept that played a crucial role in attendance boundaries during the 1990s _ keeping children in their neighborhood schools.

"I think it's going to be difficult if you want to limit the number of schools and you want to maintain a neighborhood schools concept and you want to achieve a racial balance," said King, who is black. "Really, we can no longer give much consideration to the neighborhood schools concept if you want a racial balance."

Next year there will be three first-, second-, and third-grade classes at the three schools while this year there is only one of each at Edgewood. A $500,000 addition at Greenwald will ensure that students in each of the schools have essentially the same classroom sizes and services as students in the other elementary schools.

And while this year there are three elementary school principals in the district sharing responsibilities among the schools, next year there could be one principal at each elementary school, Wilczek said.

"It's a wonderful idea," Buczynski said. "It's something we probably need."

No teacher cuts are expected, Wilczek said, as the number of elementary pupils in the district won't change. Moreover, Wilczek said he does not expect other staffing cuts.

As for busing, Wilczek said transportation costs shouldn't rise much next year, if at all.

The district will formally notify parents whose children will be affected by the redistricting. The Edgewood Parents Teachers Association already has been notified, Wilczek said.

"I don't think it's going to be a major change," he said.

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