Residents can comment on school long range plan tonight
Milford residents will have another opportunity to share their thoughts on the long-range plan being studied by the Board of Education. The board will be listening to comments at a public information session at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 29 in the Foran High School auditorium.
About 60 residents attended a session on Sept. 23 at Law High School at which eight people spoke. By the board's guidelines, giving residents one opportunity to speak at these special sessions, anyone who spoke at the Law hearing may not speak at the Foran meeting.
The Law session started with Susan Glennon, board chairperson, giving an overview of the board's long-range study and recommendations. According to Glennon, the board expects to make a final decision at its next business meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 13 at City Hall. That meeting will have the board's usual public comment session, at which time anyone may speak.
Based on an expected decline in enrollment from 6,256 students in 2014-15 to 5,384 students in 2020-21, the board's current plan calls for the following:
•A K-5 elementary configuration beginning September, 2015
•System-wide redistricting to rebalance enrollment at the elementary level
•Preschool classrooms in more than one site
•Closing of Harborside Middle School in three to five years when the planned renovation and expansion at West Shore Middle School is complete.
The board has not reached consensus on whether to close an elementary school, Glennon said.
A copy of the presentation by Glennon is available on the Milford Public Schools website. From the main page at http://www.milforded.org/, click on the link for LRP Public Info Session - PowerPoint.
In explaining the procedure for public comment, Glennon said the board would not respond to any public questions at the session, but would post answers on the district website in early October. Public comments touched on a variety of topics.
Cathy Berni of Centennial Drive expressed concern about closing Harborside and how that would affect the other middle schools. She said that East Shore Middle School “had outgrown itself.” She asked the board, “What is your plan for Harborside?” meaning potential other uses for the building.
Cathy Johnson of Marshal Street said she works as an occupational therapist in Milford schools, and has children who have gone through the local schools with one still at Jonathan Law.
Johnson said the schools need working space for occupational therapists and physical therapists. She said these therapists are part of the special education team, working with the district's neediest students.
“These students need a space to maintain their dignity and confidentiality,” said Johnson. She asked the board members to consider what it would be like to have a problem like carpal tunnel syndrome and have a therapist work with them in an office.
“Would you feel comfortable receiving therapy in your office in front of your peers?” asked Johnson.
Kathy Gage of Pond Street said she was pleased the district planned to return to a pre-kindergarten to grade 5 model. Gage said such a model allows for greater parent involvement and lets children feel more like part of a community.
Gage urged the board not to close an elementary school, saying, “It will not save a considerable amount of money” and once closed, it would be difficult to re-open. She said empty spaces could be used in creative ways, such as giving teachers a large workroom, or having a space where students could have indoor recess on bad weather days.
Christopher Thomas of Argyle Road said closing Harborside is a “bold” decision that may have economies of scale. Thomas urged the board to “look carefully” at closing an elementary school, saying room is needed for such specialties as science and art.
“Whatever decision you make, don't revisit it in two years or five years,” said Thomas, “so parents know where their kids will go to school K-8.”
Patrick Pacelli of Beth Ann Circle said, “It is important for the board to define the redistricting process and boundaries so parents can know where their kids will go.” Pacelli also suggested board members attend a school where students with special needs go.
Michael Taylor of Wolf Harbor Road said the board made promises when it went to a K-2 and grades 3-5 model for elementary school, “how well this was going to work.” Taylor said the board has presented scenarios for building configurations, adding, “I have not seen how it will be great for kids.”
Taylor said he has had children attend Milford schools for 20 years and currently has a daughter in grade 7. “What are you going to do for my seventh grader when she gets to high school? What building she goes to is irrelevant. What matters is what happens in that building,” said Taylor.
Joanne Poffenberger of Green Street asked questions about the closing of Harborside. Poffenberger asked if renovations at West Shore have been changed as a result of the proposal to close Harborside. She asked if enrollment does not decline, would the board still close Harborside.
Commenting on the elementary level changes, Poffenberger said, “I am happy to see the shift back to K-5,” noting, “I will be affected by redistricting.” With that in mind she commented, “The amount of time needed to make a decision leaves residents up in the air.”
Sheri Franzman of Somerset Lane questioned the board's proposal to close Harborside, saying the board's consultant did not recommend this change. Franzman asked the board to present enrollment figures and discuss how students will fit into the other middle schools. She said the Spanish teacher and health teacher at Harborside currently share a classroom, indicating a lack of space.
“I am a little thrown by the Harborside closing and not closing of an elementary school,” said Franzman. “None of the recommendations called for closing Harborside, but called for closing an elementary school.”