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School Board Resumes Regular Meetings With A Long List Of Issues



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School Board Resumes Regular Meetings

With A Long List Of Issues

By Eliza Hallabeck

As the Board of Education’s first regular meeting since budget meetings began, Tuesday’s meeting had a catch-up agenda, along with new items.

School board Chair Lillian Bittman briefed the board on news that had occurred since the end of January through February. School board secretary Debbie Leidlein had a longer than usual list of Board of Ed correspondences, including multiple letters against cutting the school district 2010-2011 budget.

During the Superintendent’s Report, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson explained enrollment for next school year’s kindergarten was started early, and numbers have increased beyond the expected counts at Head O’ Meadow in particular. She said projected enrollment for kindergarten at the school was 44 students, and, as of Tuesday, 61 students had enrolled at the school.

Board of Education member Bill Hart updated the school board on the work of the Facilities Committee. He said the committee intends to look into the idea of closing an elementary school, along with other plans the committee has. Mr Hart said he would like to get an expert to look at enrollment to give the district a better understanding.

“I think this will allow us to be much more proactive rather than reactive,” said Ms Leidlein, a member of the Facilities Committee.

 Reed Intermediate School Principal Sharon Epple and Assistant Principal Anthony Salvatore continued the school presentations to the board on how the schools’ Strategic Plan is being implemented at the school.

On another topic, members discussed sharing money from the school district’s 2009-2010 budget freeze with the town, as suggested by the Board of Finance earlier in the week.

“Our ability to give back would speak to the whole idea of collaboration,” said Ms Leidlein.

Mr Hart said the school board needs a better idea of what the special education Access Cost Grant will require from the district before deciding what to do with the money.

Full-Day Kindergarten

Later in the meeting, the idea of changing to full-day kindergarten was discussed. Students attending kindergarten in the district currently attend half-day classes, either in the morning or afternoon. Dr Robinson explained the recent kindergarten survey, which asked current kindergarten parents and parents who will have children attending kindergarten within the next three years to respond to an online survey, was to look at the feasibility of switching to a full-day program.

The half-day schedule, as she told the board, is unequal for the morning and afternoon students, due to weather closings.

“I professionally favor full-day kindergarten,” said Dr Robinson.

The board will be kept up-to-date, she said, while the idea is looked into.

“We recognize this is not something that we will be moving forward for next year,” Dr Robinson said. Results from the recent five-question survey showed the 418 parents who responded to the question, “If available, I would be interested in having my child attend full-day kindergarten in the Newtown Public Schools,” were favorable at 86.1 percent of the answers. Due to a posting problem, the question was not available for some to respond to, and the survey shows 254 people skipped the questions because of this.

Elementary School Closure

Before opening the topic of looking into closing an elementary school to save money, Ms Bittman said it was a major decision.

“I personally would be uncomfortable with moving too quickly,” said Ms Bittman, “until we understand the downside of closing any school.”

When a school is no longer used as an educational facility, it is turned over to the town, as member David Nanavaty pointed out.

“And any code violations that are grandfathered in, because it was an educational facility, now have to be brought up to code,” he said.

There might be an advantage to the town for using the building, Mr Nanavaty said, noting the importance of working with the town on the matter.

“This is a tremendously difficult decision for the town,” said Mr Hart, noting that such a decision also affects the quality of life in town as people perceive it. The issue, he said, is not yet fully understood, and he questioned numbers on savings that have been put out.

Dr Robinson said she ran numbers when she first heard of the idea.

“I thought of about seven to eight different configurations,” she said, “but I decided what I would do, was run one scenario, just to see if we are even talking about any feasibility at this point. Not for any purpose, other than it is in the center of town, I chose Hawley.”

She said the vast majority of Hawley students live in Sandy Hook, and would attend Sandy Hook School in the scenario. Looking only at grade level classrooms, she said, Hawley students would have a need for 17 classrooms, not including space for things like art, music, and cafeteria space.

“With the laying off of some teachers I have only theoretically seven empty classrooms,” said Dr Robinson. “You cannot put 17 classrooms into seven. It is not viable. That was just one scenario I just wanted to test to see what it would look like. I do not think we are there yet.”

While she said it does need to be studied, it would mean changes in how people view their elementary school.

“You would have to make a decision of putting things like art and music on a cart,” said Dr Robinson.

Board Vice Chair Kathryn Fetchick said she agreed the district is not at the point of needing to close an elementary school.

“I think that it is something the town and the school need to look at together,” Ms Fetchick said, adding it is something that should not be talked about until an enrollment study is completed.

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