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Facility And Enrollment Study Assesses Hawley Or Middle School Closing



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A facility and enrollment study, presented by Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, at the Board of Education’s meeting on Tuesday, June 2, recommends closing Hawley Elementary School due to declining enrollment.

While Hawley Elementary School was the main focus during the presentation, cost estimates were also provided for the closure of the middle school.

“This is difficult work, and this is work that makes folks very unhappy,” said Dr Erardi.

Added together, the cost savings and cost avoidances, listed in the presentation of the Facility and Enrollment Study Committee, for closing Hawley are roughly $15,387,000. Cost avoidances are listed as Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) and maintenance costs.

Cost savings and cost avoidances listed in the presentation for closing Newtown Middle School add up to roughly  $9,115,926.

Cost savings and cost avoidances for both schools are listed through the 2019-20 school year.

Dr Erardi also said, “With the State of Connecticut when you work in partnership on any school project there is an expectation… that your building will stay a school building for the next 20 years.”

Because of that expectation, Dr Erardi said the state would expect to be repaid $332,474 for projects completed at Hawley or $855,861 for NMS completed projects if either of those schools was closed.

In the 2006-07 school year, Dr Erardi said the school district experienced an enrollment high of 5,667. This school year, according to the superintendent, the school district has 4,738 students.

“This projection was identified years in advance of 12/14,” Dr Erardi said, before noting the most recent enrollment study, presented by Milone & MacBroom representatives at a November 6 Board of Education meeting.

The new Sandy Hook School building is set to open for the 2016-17 academic year.

The study committee members, Dr Erardi said, looked at both present and projected enrollment while focusing on not compromising teaching and learning in the school district.

Tuesday’s presentation followed a Thursday, May 28, Community Forum. At that event Dr Erardi asked community members to share their concerns and thoughts regarding closing a school. Most in attendance stressed their support for not closing an elementary school. When asked, nearly all said they are parents of current elementary aged students.

Facility and Enrollment Study Committee members included district principals, Board of Education members, and district administration.

The study listed seven possible school configurations for the district, and it included negative and positive aspects for each option. Closing an elementary school was outlined in four configurations, three outlined closing Newtown Middle School.

The configuration of schools that was endorsed in the study would have kindergarten through third grade housed at three elementary schools, Reed Intermediate School would host fourth through sixth grade, Newtown Middle School would host seventh and eighth grade, and Newtown High School would host ninth through twelfth grade. Negatives listed for the reconfiguration included it would require redistricting and it would close an elementary school. Positive aspects listed for the reconfiguration included assembling age group levels, no space constraints, and offering more opportunities at Reed for students.

If Hawley Elementary School were closed, Dr Erardi said approximately 60 percent of its students would attend Sandy Hook School and 40 percent would attend Head O’ Meadow for the 2016-17 school year.

Dr Erardi said he also spent time with legal counsel to make sure he fully understood the workings of the Hawley Trust, which he said annually contributes $20,000 to a fund balance for the school.

“If the Hawley school had a maintenance of a school presence or a program in that building, that would not compromise the Hawley Trust,” Dr Erardi said.

According to the presentation, the committee did not look at the possibility of closing Sandy Hook School, Newtown High School, or Reed.

Dr Erardi said he estimates the school board will continue looking at the option of closing a school in the district over the next month or two. He also said further conversations are expected to occur with the town and with other local officials. Further investigations, he said, will look at redistricting, transportation, and school start times.

The superintendent said he expects more community forums will be held on the topic.

“There was no quick or easy or exact fit,” Dr Erardi said near the end of the presentation. “There is still work ahead of the committee, but we thought it was really important to share this information to allow the community to participate in a conversation.”

Board of Education members asked the superintendent a range of questions following the presentation, and Board Chair Keith Alexander said he anticipates more questions to be raised at future board meetings.

Resident Kinga Walsh noted during the final public participation for the evening, “I actually have a lot of questions, but I’m looking forward to more meetings to hear answers.”

Ms Walsh then requested the school board hold a joint meeting with the Board of Finance and Legislative Council before finalizing a decision on closing a school.

“We all sit in a room and we look at the real bottom line and then we weigh it against the emotional, education, target for learning goals that we have as a group, as a town,” said Ms Walsh.

Other members of the public voiced concerns regarding possible increased class sizes, having younger grades attend school with older grades, whether parents would have reservations about sending their children to the new Sandy Hook School, having any savings returned to the education budget, redistricting, and the emotional effect closing a school may have on a community still healing from a tragedy.

Multiple people attended the meeting to show support for Hawley.

Hawley first grade teacher Deanna Pearson said she felt the conversation was “missing something,” before explaining that a school is a community, a family, “and not just for the staff, but for the people that go there.”

Hawley is also a historical building, Ms Pearson said.

“There is no school in town that has more history than Hawley,” said Ms Pearson.

Superintendent of Schools Joseph V. Erardi, Jr, standing at the podium left, presented the findings of the Facility and Enrollment Study Committee to the Board of Education during its meeting on Tuesday, June 2. The committee endorses configuring the district to close an elementary school, specifically Hawley Elementary School.
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