School board members split on whether to close elementary school
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.
“Even though we have worked toward reaching consensus during our workshops, formal adoption of the Long Range Plan, including whether to close an elementary school, must be voted on at a business meeting,” said Board Chairman Susan Glennon (D-2). “It will be on the October 13 agenda.”
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 long term plan calls for the following:
• Changing to a K-5 elementary configuration beginning September of 2015.
• System-wide redistricting to rebalance enrollment at the elementary level.
• Placing pre-school classrooms in more than one site.
• Closing Harborside Middle School in three to five years when the planned renovation and expansion at West Shore Middle School is complete.
Board members were asked to share their views about closing an elementary school at a board workshop last week. According to draft meeting minutes, the members expressed various opinions.
Anthony Piselli (R-3) said he believes an elementary school should close because it is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
Dr. Heidi Gold- Dworkin (D-4) said she thinks the number of rooms being allocated for programming is excessive and new programs could be accommodated in seven schools. She suggested giving elementary students computer tablets or laptops to use in the classrooms in lieu of dedicated computer labs.
John DeRosa (R-1) supports closing an elementary school, according to the meeting minutes. Suzanne DiBiase (R-5) said she is unsure.
Earl Whiskeyman (D-4) cautioned that enrollment could stay flat or increase, adding that it would be much harder to regain the space once it is turned over to the city.
Robert Satti (D-3) said he does not want to close an elementary school.
Jennifer Federico (D-2) does not support closing two schools, and said there are better cost savings and economies of scale in closing a middle school. She said the existing eight schools will be balanced with equity and parity.
Laura Fucci (D-4) said she believes elementary level children need the student/teacher connection. She also said that closing a school would give a less than community feel than the parents and residents are seeking.
Glennon said she believes the board is being fiscally responsible by closing Harborside only.
School Supt. Dr. Elizabeth Feser explained that the school system has never undertaken redistricting at this level.
“This redistricting will impact every school,” meeting minutes quote her as saying. “There are no staff members with the expertise or capacity to do this work and the school system does not have the needed software to do it properly.”
Feser suggested a consultant be hired who understands the work.
Glennon said Milone and MacBroom, which has been working with the board on the long term plan, is able to do the redistricting work within the short time frame at a cost of $44,000.
She added that opening up the bidding process to other interested companies could take longer, putting the board at risk of not meeting the timeline for kindergarten registration. She also said other company bids would likely be higher than Milone and MacBroom’s.
Fucci, Federico, Whiskeyman, Satti and DiBiase said they support working with Milone and MacBroom, while Gold-Dworkin, DeRosa and Piselli said they would prefer seeking other bids, according to minutes from the meeting.
The Board of Education posted answers to residents’ questions about long-range plans on the Milford Board of Education website. The questions were raised at a recent long range plan meeting, which was arranged to share information and gather resident input.
Responding to a resident’s question, school officials said they expect the student population will fit into two middle schools.
“Our projected middle school population in 2018-19 is 1,293 students for grades 6 to 8,” according to the website. “Middle school enrollment is expected to decline further to around 1,150 students in 2021-22.
“East Shore has a capacity for 650 students. An addition at West Shore would bring capacity there to 700 to 750 students and ensure enough space for the expected number of middle school students,” the website continues.
The City of Milford owns the city schools. If the board adopts a plan that includes closing Harborside, the building will be turned back over to the city. Any decision for its use will be made by city leaders, school officials said.
In terms of redistricting, the board expects to have school boundaries identified by March of 2015 so incoming kindergarten children can register in the proper school. The specific redistricting process will be defined once the final plan is adopted.
One parent asked if plans to close Harborside will impact renovations at West Shore Middle School.
The board responded, “In order to accommodate grade 6 – 8 students in two schools, the plans to renovate West Shore will have to include additional classrooms if Harborside is to close. The Capital Improvement Plan, which the board adopted in May 2014, includes an estimated $19,500,000 for previously planned renovations of the existing facility.
“The specific cost for additional classrooms is not known at this time,” school officials said.
School officials also noted that during the summer the board looked at a K-6 option that included only two middle schools.
“As the board began to consider closing a middle school, it became clear one school on the west side of town and one school on the east side of town made sense, as this would work with a direct feeder system that parents desire,” according to the board website. “West Shore has been slated for renovation on the Capital Improvement Plan for some time, but going forward with the plans was put on hold pending the outcome of the Long Range Plan. Once the renovation and expansion are completed, we will have two newly renovated schools in West Shore Middle School and East Shore Middle School, and given the capacity of both, there will be no need for a third middle school.”
There are key reasons why Harborside was considered the school to close, and those include location, lack of space for expansion and renovation costs, school officials said.