The Politics of School Districting: A case study in Upstate New York
by Sue Books, Educational Foundations, v20 n3-4 p15-33 Sum-Fall 2006
To the now-expansive literature on the causes and consequences of segregation in schooling and of inequality in educational opportunity in the United States, the author would like to add a call for more attention to the politics of school districting–that is, to how and why districts are created, in the service of whose interests, and with what consequences for students. Towards that end, this article reconstructs the solidification of a school district in upstate New York, the Spackenkill Union Free Schools, a six-mile-wide district in the town of Poughkeepsie. In a battle with the New York State Education Department in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Spackenkill schools succeeded in avoiding consolidation with their poorer, larger, and far more diverse neighboring district, the Poughkeepsie City Schools. (The town of Poughkeepsie includes both the city of Poughkeepsie and the community known as Spackenkill.) In this article, she recounts the story of Spackenkill’s pursuit of “independence,” as reconstructed from newspaper articles written at the time, school board minutes, and personal conversations with the president of the Spackenkill Board of Education and a Poughkeepsie resident who lived through the struggle. She then offers an analysis of the ideals and interests that shaped the district’s conflict with the State Education Department. Finally, she comments on the significance of this small chapter of social history for reformers still working towards desegregation and more equal educational opportunity.