School board postpones vote on closing Harborside

The Milford Board of Education did not vote Monday night to close Harborside Middle School, as was expected, but rather put the vote off until its Nov. 10 meeting.

The board also did not discuss whether it will close an elementary school, a discussion that also had been expected as part of the long range plan discussions Monday night.

Board member John DeRosa told School Board Chairman Susan Glennon that he did not wish to make a motion Monday night concerning an elementary school closing.

During a meeting break, however, he suggested he might make a motion to close an elementary school at the Nov. 10 meeting, but he was vague on whether or not he will actually make such a motion.

After several hours of a meeting that featured many angry parents talking passionately about their objections to closing Harborside and urging the board to consider the number of school transitions their children have already made, the board agreed on only several points regarding the long range plan for Milford’s schools.

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.

Board member Laura Fucci explained that the Long Range Planning Committee recommended redistricting and the board and administration agreed.

“It is important to rebalance,” Fucci said. “The west side is overcrowded, and the east side is not as crowded.”

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.

DeRosa told parents and others at Monday night’s meeting that returning to K-5 was one of his campaign promises, and Fucci added that the board took to heart what parents told them about having to juggle children on several different school schedules.

After many parents spoke against closing Harborside, the board took a lengthy recess and returned to present a motion that seemed to take parent opinion into account. The motion proposed adding classroom space to West Shore Middle School in anticipation of closing Harborside Middle School. But instead of stating that Harborside would close in three to five years as the board was expected to recommend, the motion directed that the board “revisit” the anticipated closing in three years.

It was that motion that drew several board members into debate. DeRosa said he did not want to commit a future board to closing Harborside; Glennon said the motion set a plan in place for closing the school. Board member Suzanne DeBiase looked a bit exasperated when she asked, “So we’re voting, and then a board in three years will vote on whether to close the school?”

Glennon suggested it wouldn’t make sense to plan added classroom space at West Shore Middle School and ask for the funding if there wasn’t a plan in place to use the extra classrooms due to the closing of Harborside.

There is a plan for renovations at West Shore, and those plans call for replacing the roof and windows, and other renovations, according to Director of Operations James Richetelli Jr. The cost is projected at $19.5 million. To accommodate additional students if Harborside were to close, there would be another $8 million to $10 million needed to build additional classroom space, he said.

Richetelli speculated that the Planning and Zoning Board, finance board and city aldermen would not be likely to approve the additional spending unless there was a reason for it, meaning the board would have to be planning to close one of the other middle schools and shifting students to West Shore.

The middle school population is expected to be 1,296 in 2021, and Richetelli said East Shore Middle School can accommodate 650 students and West Shore would be able to accommodate 750.

DeRosa said those numbers indicate that closing Harborside in 2018-19 could put the middle schools at full capacity.

After much discussion, Fucci made a motion to postpone the vote on closing Harborside until Nov. 10.

The board then went on to approve paying the consulting firm Milone and MacBroom $43,000 to assist the board with redistricting. Several board members had talked about sending the job out to bid, but since Milone and MacBroom have already collected much of the needed data as the company worked on the long range plan for Milford’s schools, board members voted to go with them.

Also, Richetelli explained that it might take too long to go through the bidding process with other companies, and that would hold up letting parents know where their children will go to school next year.

Board member Dr. Heidi Gold-Dworkin was the lone dissenting vote on using Milone and MacBroom, saying that she preferred to send the job out to bid.

The Board of Education has been working on a long term plan to address the future needs of the schools in light of declining enrollment.