Community Forum Addresses District Enrollment And A Facility Study
Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, oversaw a Community Forum on Thursday, April 30, on enrollment and an ongoing facility study.
Information from the study will be shared with the school board publicly at its June 2 meeting, according to Dr Erardi’s presentation at the forum, and information from the study is expected to detail possible options for closing a school, which will be decided by the Board of Education.
The superintendent also said when the school board decided to go ahead with the facility study, it also decided nothing concerning closing a school would be done for the next school year, the 2015-16 school year. The study, he later said, is focusing on the 2016-17 school year.
Following a November 5 Board of Education meeting, which included a report on enrollment that confirmed the expected decline in student populations over the next decade, Dr Erardi said an internal district team began working on the facility study in January.
Dr Erardi noted the medium projections from the enrollment study, saying, “We’re going to reduce our enrollment, rough numbers, by about 200 students per year for the next four, five, six years.”
That reduction is expected to be followed by a “flat space for a couple years,” before, Dr Erardi said, an “upswing” in enrollment is projected.
“What you are looking at is not unique to Newtown,” said Dr Erardi. “Nearly all of your rural and suburban communities look like we do. The growth in Connecticut if there is growth, and there is in regards to public schools, is happening in your urban districts, your Hartfords, New Britains, [and] your Bridgeports.”
When approaching the facility study, Dr Erardi said the new Sandy Hook Elementary School, which is projected to open in the 2016-17 school year, and Newtown High School were excluded from the possibility of closing. The facility study, the superintendent said, has focused on teaching and learning as the “decisionmaker.”
“We spent a number of meetings and a number of hours brainstorming configuration,” said Dr Erardi, later explaining the different configurations that may be used if the school board decides to close a school.
If kindergarten through third grade is housed at the elementary schools, Dr Erardi explained, then one elementary school would be closed. If the decision is made to house kindergarten through fifth grade in the elementary schools, then Dr Erardi said either Reed Intermediate School or Newtown Middle School would be closed.
‘Everything Is Still Being Considered’
Dr Erardi reiterated during the meeting that no decision has been made regarding closing a school.
“If you are at that deli line or that soccer sideline and someone is talking about what building is closing, that is just not true. There have been no decisions made at this particular time. Everything is still under discussion, everything is still under review, and everything is still being considered, with the exception of the [high school and the new Sandy Hook School],” said Dr Erardi.
Closing a school is a complex decision, Dr Erardi said, adding that it includes also looking at transportation, the impact it may have on school start times, and possible cost savings.
Speaking near the start of the event, Board of Education Chair Keith Alexander said the board and facility study committee wanted to hear from the public during the forum.
“We wanted to hear from everybody who wanted to come out and give us information on the topic,” said Mr Alexander, who was one of multiple board members and district administrators and teachers present for the forum. “The district has already been working on what our facilities are, what we have, how many students we have, and how those things go together. That process is moving along.”
From an educational standpoint, Mr Alexander said the school board is trying to understand how closing a school would work, if the school board decides to close a school due to enrollment.
Members of the public present shared concerns and comments about how closing a school would impact class size across the district, including how a school building could be repurposed by the town if closed, whether quality of education in the different buildings was being taken into account, and the decision to house the district’s prekindergarten program in the new Sandy Hook School building.