Board of Education votes not to close any city schools

Harborside Middle School will remain open, and all the current elementary schools will remain open following a Board of Education meeting Monday night.

Although the school board was expected to vote Monday night to close Harborside Middle School in three to five years and possibly an elementary school as well as part of a long range plan for the city’s schools, neither of those happened.

Following at least two hours of passionate pleas from parents to leave Harborside open and considerable school board debate, it was Board of Education member Dr. Heidi Gold-Dworkin who stopped Harborside’s doors from shutting.

Democrats, who hold the board majority, had been expected to vote to close the middle school, but Gold-Dworkin broke from her party and voted against the closure, meaning the attempt failed with a tied vote of 5-5.

Several Democrats on the board spoke earlier in the meeting in favor of closing the school because of declining enrollment. They wanted to set in motion a plan to add classrooms at West Shore Middle School so that in three to five years Harborside could close and there would be two, rather than three, middle schools in the city.

Democrat Laura Fucci said she backed the closure because keeping three middle schools would lead to East Shore and Harborside operating at 60% capacity. She said consolidating would allow greater connections between students and teachers and allow for mentoring.

“This allows for direct feeders from elementary to high school,” Fucci said. “It is responsible and an excellent investment in school infrastructure and programming.”

Other Democrats insisted that declining enrollment projections and many workshops at which the board discussed long range school planning left them believing that closing Harborside was a sound decision educationally.

“I want to see us invest in our middle schools for the future,” said Democrat Jennifer Federico. “I do believe the numbers are sound. I don't see how we could keep investing in our middle schools if they are at 60% [capacity].

“I look at this as a consolidation of resources,” she said.

John DeRosa, the Republican minority leader, led the most vocal fight against closing the middle school. While School Board Chariman Susan Glennon (D) said there had been board consensus about closing Harborisde, DeRosa said he had tried to raise alternate ideas earlier, and then changed his mind about closing the school after hearing parents object to it.

“I’m the one that changed my mind,” he told parents at Monday night’s school board meeting. “I have a right to change my mind. That’s a freedom we have as Americans.”

Republican Michael DeGrego said he felt “betrayed” by the move to close the school.

Parents and residents came out in force Monday night to speak against closing Harborside, saying it would divide the city into east and west and would be a disservice to the city.

“If we close Harborside we'll set up our town so there is no interaction between these kids and those kids,” said resident Pete Smith.

Alderman Ray Vitali agreed, saying that an east and west separation would  not be good.

“Harborside has been the connectivity of this community,” Vitali said. “I say we need to revisit a K-8 at Harborside. You would do this community a disservice by closing Harborside Middle School.”

No elementary closing

The board also voted down a motion to close an elementary school, a motion that DeRosa made toward the beginning of the meeting.

DeRosa tried to amend his motion, and then suggested putting the vote off to another meeting. But several board Democrats said the matter needed to be decided now so that other plans, such as redistricting, could move forward.

The motion to close an elementary school failed 8-2, with only DeRosa and fellow Republican Suzanne DeBiase voting for it.

Earlier in the long range planning process, a Long Range Planning Committee had recommended closing one or two elementary schools due to declining enrollment.

Back to K-5

Monday’s meeting was a continuation of a meeting held Oct. 13, at which the board voted to return the schools to a K-5 configuration for the 2015-16 school year, to decentralize pre-kindergarten, which is now housed in only one school, and to redistrict at the elementary school level to balance the school populations.

The return to a K-5 structure is a move that parents have been pleading for since the schools moved to a K-2/3-5 structure several years ago.