Parents raise class size concerns if school closes

Board of Education Chair David Heller addresses the crowd Tuesday night during a public hearing about the possibility of closing Central Avenue School. - LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Residents came out to have their say about the possibility of closing Central Avenue Elementary School and Prospect Street School Tuesday night.

One of the main points of concern raised during the public hearing was class sizes, which are set to increase if Central Avenue closes.

Lisa Eggers said she was not happy with the plans to redistribute the children throughout the schools.

“I’m disappointed you guys think this is acceptable, to have 28 kids in a fourth-grade class,” Eggers said. “There’s got to be a better solution than this.”

Eggers, who has two children at Central and is expecting a third, was worried about what would happen when her children went to different schools.

“I just want to know (my daughter) is going to be ok in the class and 23 kindergarteners is a lot,” Eggers said. “I don’t want to send my kids off from 9 to 3:30 … and have it be bedlam.”

The school board is considering closing the schools to save money next year and cut a budget gap that currently stands at $2.6 million. If all schools remain open, the smallest classes in any elementary school would have 15 and 16 kindergartners, at Salem and Maple Hill elementary schools. If Central Avenue closes next year, Salem will have the largest kindergarten classes at 23 students apiece. Salem and Andrew Avenue will each have two classes of 28 fourth-graders, pushing the state-mandated maximum of 30 students per class.

Catalina Motiani, who teaches at a school in Waterbury, felt the large class sizes would be detrimental to the students learning.

“What you are saying is reasonable, we as teachers know it is not reasonable. Twenty five is not reasonable,” Motiani said.

Board of Education Chair David Heller explained the board did not want to increase the number of students in a class.

“I would love to see every class have 18 students in it,” Heller said. “Nobody up here wants to see class sizes of 28.”

However, Heller said the funding was not there to keep all the schools open and provide the same educational support that the students have been receiving up until now.

“It always comes down to programs and class size. Do you cut a particular program to reduce your class size? Do you get aids in there that can assist,” Heller said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo, who supports closing Central Avenue, said that he did not come to his decision without a lot of thought and sadness, because he went to that school 35 years ago.

“I think the way education is moving and the need to provide the quality educators inside the buildings is going to require us to rethink what we believe a neighborhood school to be,” Mezzo said.

Mezzo pointed out that the district has consultants that are there to help children in case they need it. He said that the children who need the help from the consultants would still need the help, regardless of the class size.

Former school board member Rocky Vitale was worried core facilities such as the gym and cafeteria would suffer because of the large population at the schools.

“We had that problem at the high school, before the cafeteria was enlarged, where they were starting lunch very early in the morning and ending almost at the end of the school day,” Vitale said.

Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson explained that the core facilities are designed to support a much larger number of students. Years ago Naugatuck public schools supported an additional 1,300 students that the district has now. He said the core facilities have not been changed since then.

Mezzo felt, although he went to Central Avenue and other parents have emotional ties, nostalgia shouldn’t stand in the way of providing the best education for the children.

“As much as we love our buildings, have attachment to our buildings and should honor the historical significance of those buildings, those programs, to me, outweigh the physical structures,” Mezzo said.

Heller told the audience that the Board of Education is on their side and wants to help provide as best as possible for the students.

“We’re going to give the teachers as much help as we can, as much as the community gives us funding for,” Heller said.

The school board is scheduled to hold a special meeting 7 p.m. tonight at the Tuttle Building, to discuss the closings and possibility vote on the issue.