School Facilities Group Reviews School Closing Options
School Facilities Group Reviews
School Closing Options
By Eliza Hallabeck
With projected enrollment numbers before them, members of the Newtown School Facilities Study Ad Hoc Committee met on Tuesday, May 31, to continue looking over future options for consolidating the district, with a focus on possibly closing a school.
Both Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson and Board of Education Chair William Hart specified the discussion was not definitive; it was meant as a hypothetical investigation into possible options concerning lowering enrollment numbers.
Following the meeting, Mr Hart explained the committee has been gathering information on how the school district could approach a decline in enrollment since late fall or early winter of 2010, after an enrollment study prepared by H.C. Planning consultants of Orange reported a possible future decline in enrollment. (The full study is available online in the Source Files section of NewtownBee.com.)
In order to begin looking at possible scenarios, Mr Hart said the facilities group had to assume the enrollment studyâs numbers were accurate, while assuming other factors would also remain the same over the coming years.
To consolidate and close one elementary school, the elementary enrollment would need to be 350 to 400 fewer students from the districtâs current enrollment numbers, according to Dr Robinson, who presented information provided by school district Business Director Ronald Bienkowski, who was not present for the meeting.
Mr Hart said Head Oâ Meadow Elementary School was chosen as âa cleanâ example for the facilities group, because it is the districtâs smallest school by enrollment and by physical size. However, he said, closing any school in the district would come with its own complications. If Head Oâ Meadow were closed, Mr Hart said after the meeting, it would have the highest impact of all the elementary schools on transportation, as the districtâs most remote elementary school.
Board of Education Vice Chair Debbie Leidlein said it was her understanding from the previous facilities committee meeting that Hawley Elementary School was chosen as the example school, not Head Oâ Meadow. Dr Robinson explained closing Hawley, in theory, would take away any grandfathered Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance specifications the school is now allotted. If, after closing Hawley, the district decided to reopen the school, bringing the school up to ADA compliance could not be done, Dr Robinson said.
While continuing to review Mr Bienkowskiâs report, Dr Robinson said if Head Oâ Meadow was shut to consolidate academic space, the building would still need to remain open, to provide the district with extra gymnasium space and more. After weighing costs associated with closing the school, Dr Robinson reported the net savings to the town and school district from closing Head Oâ Meadow could be roughly $1.49 million.
Â Before the committeeâs next meeting, the group asked Dr Robinson to have Mr Bienkowski look into costs associated with closing Newtown Middle School. In the event the middle school was closed, fifth grade students would be moved back to the elementary schools and Reed would house the sixth through eighth grade. To do this, even with a decline in enrollment, either portables would be needed or work would need to occur to expand Reed. It was unknown at the meeting whether portables could be placed on Reedâs campus.
Committee member Fran Pennarola pointed out the decision to close a school would not be made until roughly 2013 or 2014 if the projected enrollment numbers happen exactly as predicted. At that time, the town and school district would also have better projected cost estimates associated with closing a school.
Mr Hart suggested the group begin thinking of recommendations on how and when the school district should decide to close a school, but the group held off that decision until further information is known.
Committee members and Legislative Council member Kathy Fetchick said the group still needed to look over cost estimates associated with closing the middle school.
âIt seems like a big piece of the puzzle that we donât have information on yet,â said Ms Fetchick.
Ms Leidlein said she would also like the group to look over the educational implications of closing a school, along with the associated cost estimates. During the meeting Ms Leidlein also questioned when it would be best to implement a magnet school environment at one location and have parents opt into having their students attend the school.
Dr Robinson said there are many options the district could face.
âI donât think we should close the door on any options,â said the superintendent.
The committee will next meet on June 27 to further discuss and possibly decide on âtipping pointsâ that would lead to the school district closing a school.