The Two-Board Knot: Zoning, Schools, and Inequality

Salim Furth:

Old Town Road traces a choppy, swerving path that marks the southern edge of Trumbull, Connecticut. It is shaded by maples and oaks that frame the sensible New England homes of an affluent suburb. Across the double yellow lines of Old Town Road are similar homes in the city of Bridgeport, one of the poorest places in Connecticut.

Last July, Trumbull’s Planning and Zoning Commission approved a zoning change to allow a 202-unit apartment complex to replace a vacant office building a few blocks away from Old Town Road. Key to getting approval was that the apartment building was designed with only one- and two-bedroom units; the developer estimates that only 16 school-age children will live among the 202 new units.1 For Trumbull’s residents, eager to maintain their school district’s third-in-the-state ranking,2 a larger influx of potentially poor students might have been a deal-breaker.

According to Zillow’s estimate, the three-bedroom house at 1230 Old Town Road could sell for $287,000. Across the street in Bridgeport, a very similar home at 1257 Old Town Road is worth only $214,000. The Zillow interface helpfully informs the prospective buyer that any children living at 1230 Old Town Road have the right to attend Frenchtown Elementary School, rated 9 out of 10 by GreatSchools. Children on the south side of the street attend the Cross School, which rates a 2,3 and is part of the worst municipal school district in the state, according to the state’s own ranking.4

Madison’s non diverse K-12 governance model rejected the proposed indepedent Madison Preparatory IB Charter School. This, despite spending more than most (now nearly $20,000 per studentf) and tolerating long term, disastrous reading results.

Madison recently expanded its least diverse schools.