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SEI vs. Neighborhood Schools

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

(note- S.E.I. stands for “Socio-Economic Integration”)

As I’ve mentioned, I’m on the School Board’s Policy and Advocacy committee.  At our last meeting on January 18- my 38th birthday- Commissioner Amy Werbel from Ward Five was present to advocate for changing Board Policy JE on School Boundaries.  The policy reads as follows:


Pupils shall be enrolled and attend the school located in the district in which they reside except as otherwise authorized in accordance herewith.

District boundaries shall be determined and may be revised by the Board of School Commissioners.

Individual requests for variance shall be acted upon by the Superintendent. Variances from one school to another will only be allowed when they directly benefit the education and/or welfare of the pupil. The Superintendent shall establish procedures to govern parental requests for variances to established District boundaries.

In the event that a neighborhood school has reached established class size limits, students may be assigned to another school at the discretion of the Superintendent. This assignment will remain in effect for the remainder of the school year. (See Policy EED – Student Transportation Services).

POLICY ADOPTED: December 7, 1986
POLICY REVISED: May 20, 1986
POLICY REVIEWED: October 12, 1988
POLICY REVISED: August 22, 1989
POLICY REVISED: October 12, 1993

Amy is looking for a change of language to accommodate the new practice in elementary enrollment of ranking schools by preference. Now what happens is parents rank schools in order of preference. For Koko, Poopsie and I picked the school closest to our house as our 1st choice. We picked the school second closest as our 2nd choice. Superintendent Jeanne Collins seemed to indicate in the meeting that the vast majority of parents behave this way in deciding where to send their little ones. And of course that is obviously borne out by common sense. Parents want to be close to their children.

Come to think of it the ranking system we’re using to choose an elementary school for our kids in Burlington is a lot like the IRV voting system we just got rid of.

Anyway the point is- most parents pick the school closest to their home, which tends to correlate to the old boundary map that used to dictate where kids went to school, and so most people don’t notice a difference.

Now my understanding is- and any other commissioner or anyone- feel free to jump into the comments here- is that the SEI model of placement we’re working under functions a little bit like the nation’s military recruitment.  All volunteer, but we reserve the right of complusary placement.  And I guess so far with the so-called “magnet schools” (Barnes and Wheeler) we’ve had all volunteer recruitment from outside the old north end.  There is (or are?) seperate application(s) required to attend a magnet school.

In committee I was delighted to learn that the old policy still stood.  Some of the folks who had been around started talking about the last time they looked at this policy- which was not “June 6, 1997″ like the policy says but really December 12, 2006 when after its first reading in amended form, the full Board sent it back to the Policy Committee where the amendment died.  The amendment would have inserted the following language at the beginning, before the word “pupil.”

The Burlington School District is committed to providing excellent and equitable education for all students.  The District believes that each student deserves the opportunity to learn from a comprehensive curriculum with a diverse population mix of peers that is similar to the demographics of the district as a whole.

Well- that little wedge meant to weaken the idea of kids going to school close to home- in neighborhood schools failed. 

 Thanks to commissioner Kathy Chasen from Ward One for providing the committee that reminder and a copy of what was voted out of committee at that time.  ‘She is the eyes and ears of this institution my friends.’

But now Amy Werbel is back at the committee trying to tie up some loose ends.  She wants the language of the current policy to bend and weaken in order to further solidify the concept and practice of Socio-Economic Integration in the Burlington School Distict.

I’m pretty sure Ward Seven, which I represent, would not want the current, traditional, common sense policy to be messed with.  In committee I tried to mollify concerns that the Policy does not concur with the current practice of ranking schools- (in place because of a seperate resolution, not a policy change) by arguing that when someone ranked a school that would have been outside their normal school boundary as #1, that was in essence a request for a varience.  Similarly, when someone from outside the old north end boundaries of Barnes or Wheeler applied to a magnet school, that too was a request for a varience.

This strategy succeeded in allowing passage of a motion to table the discussion until the next meeting Tuesday February 15 at 7pm- most likely at the Ira Allen Building on Colchester Ave.  But the discussion of amending the current policy JE called “School Boundaries” will be back on then- and I’m afraid there is a sticky wicket in my argument that the current practice fits the existing policy.  It doesn’t fully.  Both the ranking system and the magnet school applications exist so the District can mix up rich kids and poor kids, not according to boundary lines on a map, but according to their parents income tax returns.  The District will do it by parent choice if possible, and by force if necessary.  Even if that comes with a significant transportation cost to the district, as it did this year when we had to add a new bus for that kid that somehow though a misunderstanding ended up at Wheeler instead of Edmumds.

The reality of the whole “Socio-Economic Integration” hullabaloo is that this practice as it now exists in the Burlngton School District, is out of line with the district’s own policy.  Under what I was trying to argue ‘mostly’ fits the current policy variences may be granted not becuase it will  “directly benefit the education and/or welfare of the pupil”  as an individual as the policy states, but will serve a much more hypothetical good of the District as a whole.  Interested parties with deep enough pockets and enough time on their hands might have halted the SEI via Magnet School model in Burlington in its tracks with a lawsuit anytime in the last two or three years.

Well what am I supposed to do about this?  I represent my ward and what I think is common sense and the best good of the kids the best I can.  Everything else is up to parents and voters.  You want to keep the policy the way it is?  Write to the school board, especially the one assigened to you by virtue of the map, and not the socio-economic status of the commissioners, of which mine is probably the lowest or second lowest. Here’s a link to our email addresses.  It’s a crappy link, because you have to scroll down and you can’t cut and paste, but it’s got what it takes to allow some involvement with a little effort for those who care enough. 

If there’s a large enough outcry again, like there was the last time around- we will keep our wise and good policy the way it is.  Otherwise, Amy and other pro-SEI commissioners will probably succeed in getting the policy changed.  I’m only one vote and I can’t stall them forever.


1 Ed { 01.26.11 at 4:38 pm }

Haik, This has been the agenda ever since those first meetings we had about SEI. Jeanne all but confirmed to me in a meeting we had a few weeks ago that the “magnet school” concept was going to be expanded beyond Barnes and Wheeler. The Board approved the leasing of two busses and the employment of drivers for next year to transport kids from the “ends” to the magnet schools. Bussing for socioeconomic integration is here. The word is out in your neighborhood, and people are not happy. I hope you vote “no.”

2 Ed { 01.26.11 at 5:17 pm }

Some years ago Wilmington, NC, had a policy of SEI. Newcomers to the area were told not to pick a neighborhood based on the school. It looks like they’ve changed their policy:

3 Haik Bedrosian { 01.26.11 at 11:10 pm }

Is it right that we should tell a kid they have to get on a bus and leave their neighborhood every day because they are poor? Do poor parents, especially those without cars, really want their kids shipped further away from them?

In many ways I am a traditionalist at heart, and have never really been keen on Fred and Amy’s experiment here. I think it’s honorable that they want to do something to improve education, but I don’t think this is the right thing.

4 JL { 01.26.11 at 11:41 pm }

I’m not sure I understand how the new/old proposed language addition to the School Boundaries policy makes the current SEI practice any more in line with the policy. If I’m understanding you correctly, all it would do would add some SEI aspirational language to the beginning of a policy that goes on to allow variances only for the education/welfare of a student. The current SEI ranking practice would still run counter to the policy.

5 No Bus For Us { 01.27.11 at 7:37 am }
6 Haik Bedrosian { 01.27.11 at 8:48 am }

Well the language I cited was what was proposed and did not pass back in 2006- and you’re right, it does nothing to correct the contadiction- it just would have added a ‘belief’ statement that would have served only to muddy the clarity of the policy.

Amy is just going for anything that will make the language of the existing policy softer, weaker, more plastic, more malleable, less clear and basically somewhere on the continuum further from neighborhood schools and closer to forced socio-economic integration by all means necessary (that is-if you follow one possible scenario of the new practice to its logical conclusion- forced bussing).

I don’t like it, and I will of course vote no Ed, but that’s not going to matter a lot if the committee and the board vote as a whole to degrade the current school boundary language. Don’t waste time talking to me. Write to the other 12 commissioners, especially the others on the policy committee- Jill, Kathy, um…Alan, Jason…- it’s on the website at under board info- committees- Policy & Advocacy.