Least worst option

FI-EditorialTrying to decide what the Board of Education will do, if it does anything at all, to deal with racial balance and facilities might require consulting the Magic 8 Ball. But don’t be surprised if the response is “Outlook cloudy. Ask again later.”

A planned vote for tonight on the town’s plan for dealing with racial balance is now off the table, thanks to the state’s failure to send back critical information in a timely fashion. What action will end up being voted on very much hinges on whether New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue schools meet the state’s definition of “unique schools,” but even when that information comes, the course of action still seems uncertain.

The only thing clear about what’s been happening here is that a lot is still unclear. And that’s not a criticism of the process. This has been, as designed, an open process with several public hearings and forums.

People might not always have liked what they heard, but they heard it openly and had many chances to respond. But what’s still extremely unclear is what will have any impact at all on racial balance and facility utilization in the district. Assuming the “unique school” question is answered with a no, what will happen then?

Storming up to Hartford with pitchforks and torches (not to mention a lawsuit or two) has never been the best option, since Greenwich does not benefit from an antagonistic relationship with the state and could well lose an expensive and divisive fight. And doing nothing about this is clearly about as practical as hiding under a pile of coats and hoping that everything turns out ok.

The only thing that possibly could have dealt with balance and facilities once and for all was a massive redistricting beyond even what the outside consultants proposed. And since the mere thought of that caused such a parent uproar that the board will likely soon insist the word “redistricting” be removed from all Greenwich dictionaries, that was a non-starter.

So instead, when a vote actually comes on balance, Greenwich will have to cross its fingers and hope for the best.

Any solution to a problem is bound to be a leap of faith, whether in education, government or the corporate world. You do the best you can to prepare and then act. There are no guarantees even in what seems like a certainty.

Will a plan based on open choice and magnet schools lead to the positive results the district is looking for? There’s a lot of skepticism around that, but of all the ideas the board has seriously entertained, it’s the least disruptive one.

But is that enough? Only time will tell. It would be a mistake for anyone to assume either success or failure before a vote is even taken. Still, it’s right that there are doubts among board members that people will take advantage of magnet schools when they’re comfortable in neighborhood schools.

To make this work, the board can’t give us the kind of half-baked magnet program it stuck Hamilton Avenue School with. It has to be one with a real chance to succeed.

In a perfect world, the state would have agreed with parents and board members Peter Sherr and Peter von Braun that Hamilton Avenue and New Lebanon schools are unique schools because of their magnet programs and therefore exempt from the racial balance mandate. But that’s not even a universally accepted idea on the board, and the state seems to be taking its sweet time providing clarity.

So what is Greenwich left with? Going with what is the best option on the table and hoping it works may be the only thing it can do. It’s far from the optimal solution, but neither is it the worst.

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