Schools: Many questions, few answers


NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education invited 26 representatives of its 11 schools to share their thoughts about four proposed redistricting plans with the Facilities Subcommittee Tuesday night.

Those 26 must have each brought a friend, because about 50 people packed the Tuttle House meeting room and an adjacent lobby to voice concerns about finances, security and the educational program related to the plans, which would involve reconfiguring grades, shuffling students among existing facilities, repurposing some schools and possibly taking a building offline entirely.

Salem School or Prospect Street School could be closed in an effort to bridge the projected operating deficit of at least $4 million for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

One thing appears certain, however: The board will consolidate the borough’s two middle schools, Hillside and City Hill, into one and repurpose Hillside as one of two intermediate schools for fifth- and sixth-graders.

That plan is contained in each of the four proposals the board is now weighing. It will necessitate a reduction of 18 positions—11.1 teachers and 6.9 support staff, according to documentation provided at Tuesday’s meeting. It would bring average class size to 22.2 students at the consolidated middle school and 27.7 students at the intermediate schools.

“The bottom line is we have to save some money,” said school board member Jim Scully. “And to do that, we’re going to need to cut positions.”

Member Rocky Vitale echoed Scully’s comments, saying staff cuts will be where real savings are found.

It’s unclear how many of the reductions would come in the forms of voluntary resignations, early retirements or layoffs.

The proposal (3B) which requires no elementary school be closed and no positions cut would bring K-4 class sizes to an average of 19.9 and repurpose Prospect Street School in Union City as an early learning center for pre-K and Headstart programs. Prospect Street students would be relocated to Hop Brook School.

The proposal (3A) which involves taking Prospect Street offline would slash six positions, bring K-4 class sizes to a mean of 22.4, and repurpose Andrew Avenue School as an early learning center. Current Prospect Street students would be moved to Hop Brook, and Andrew Avenue students would be relocated to Salem and Western Schools.

The proposal (3C) to close Salem School would cut 12 positions, bring K-4 class sizes to an average of 23.3, and also repurpose Prospect Street as an early learning center. Prospect Street kids would be relocated to Hop Brook, and Salem students would move to the Western, Andrew and Prospect Street buildings.

The fourth and final proposal, which appears to be the least likely, would also close Salem, require four positions be cut, repurpose Andrew Avenue and shuffle students into other K-4 facilities.

The board has not provided hard cost-savings figures for review and said it hasn’t worked out those figures exactly at this point. It acknowledged, at teachers’ behest, that many factors would need to be taken into account: What would be the net change in transportation costs? Would more support staff be needed for longer bus rides? Would adequate security be employed at the consolidated middle school, and would safety become an issue with more students in the halls there? What would be the cost of basic maintenance and utilities on any building that’s taken offline? Would that building remain the BOE’s responsibility, or would the borough reuse it for some other purpose? How long would the reconfiguration stay effective, and what would be the cost of bringing a building back online?

The Facilities Subcommittee had few concrete answers for school representatives and said it’s been scrambling to answer many of these questions itself. It assured all present that every factor would be accounted for when cost-savings are evaluated.

Once those figures are calculated, the board said, the potential impact on students and the academic program would be weighed against savings before a final decision is made.

The subcommittee also provided a document comparing and rating facilities in terms of each one’s ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance, asbestos, energy efficiency, the condition of its roof, heating and air conditioning systems, and fenestration, or the design and disposition of windows and exterior openings.

Naugatuck High School was rated the worst among the 11 schools, scoring twos and ones on a scale of five across all categories. Hop Brook, Maple Hill, City Hill (which will house the consolidated middle school) and Cross Street rounded out the bottom five.

On the other hand, Hillside, Central Avenue, Andrew Avenue, Western and the Tuttle House comprised the top five school system buildings.

Salem and Prospect Street Schools, both of which are on the proverbial chopping block, sat square in the middle of the rating, at sixth- and seventh-best, respectively.

Some asked why Tuttle House, which houses the BOE administration’s offices, wasn’t considered within the facilities plans. Why couldn’t the board use facilities within an existing school?

BOE member David Heller and Mayor Bob Mezzo said the original deed restriction on Tuttle House, which was build in 1880, wouldn’t allow for repurposing, though there might be some legal wiggle room.

Vitale said closing Tuttle wouldn’t amount to much savings since it wouldn’t allow for staff reductions.

The subcommittee was scheduled to meet again Thursday with time allotted for public comment.