Parents speak out on proposal to close school

Central Avenue School would be closed under a preliminary proposal to bridge a gap in the 2012-13 school budget. –FILE PHOTO

NAUGATUCK — A handful of parents voiced their concerns to the Board of Education Thursday night over a preliminary proposal to close Central Avenue Elementary School in order to help bridge a gap in the upcoming school budget.

“We have a group of parents that are beside themselves,” Michelle Grella, president of the school’s parent-teacher organization, Parents and Educators Together, told the board.

Grella said when the story broke Thursday morning parents felt they were blindsided by the news.

“They had no idea it was coming that the school is possibly going to be closed,” Grella said.

A proposal to close Central Avenue and the Prospect Street Early Learning Center, which houses the district’s Head Start program and other preschool programs, was put forth at a meeting of the board’s finance subcommittee Wednesday. The proposal is one option to help bridge a projected $5 million budget gap in the 2012-13 school budget. The gap stems from rising costs along with a loss of $1.4 million in federal stimulus funds.

James Jordan, chair of the finance subcommittee, said the proposal was purely a financial report on the monetary impact of closing the school. He said the proposal hasn’t been vetted yet.

“It’s not even been discussed at length,” Jordan said.

Jordan explained school officials felt it was important to notify the public that the proposal was received rather than wait until they had discussed it in detail.

“This was the earliest possible time that we could notify people,” he said.

Closing Central Avenue is projected to save about $1 million mostly through staff reductions. Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson said closing the school would eliminate nine teaching positions, a principal, a secretary, a nurse, and two custodians.

A $500,000 savings is expected if the Prospect Street Early Learning Center is closed. The savings would come from avoiding paying for expensive repairs to bring the building up to handicap accessibility code, according to Tindall-Gibson.

The handful of parents who addressed the board said their children were crying after learning that their school might be closed.

“I just wonder if Central is on the chopping block, I have to wonder if you know how much value is in that school,” Lisa Eggers, who become emotional over the thought of the school closing, told the board.

Dawn Anderson said her son asked her if the school was being closed because the students couldn’t get their Connecticut Master Test scores up.

Central Avenue has struggled to meet adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Anderson said she works in another school district where she’s seen schools closed to split up the students and improve test scores.

“I have a feeling, whether you’re willing to admit it or not, that that is the reason the school was chosen,” Anderson said.

Grella said it devastated her too see her daughter cry over the idea of her school closing and told her she would try to fight for the school.

“If it crossed anyone’s minds that we would not fight, you were very sadly mistaken,” Grella said. “We will not go down without voicing our concerns.”

School board Chair David Heller said the board isn’t looking at Central Avenue because the feeling is it’s an easy target.

“No one’s picking on Central Avenue School because they think they’re going to go down without a fight,” Heller said. “No one wants to close a single school here.”

Heller said the board has just begun its budget preparation and closing the schools is one proposal to address the budgetary concerns.

As the process moves froward, Grella implored the board to be open and share all the information it has with parents regarding the proposal.

On Monday night, school officials will meet with parents of Central Avenue students and the public to discuss the proposal to close the school. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the school, 28 Central Ave.

Jordan and Heller both said as the information is developed parents will be kept informed.

“Whether you decide in the end to close Central or not, if we are given the information we are a community that will understand your decisions if you are honest and forthright with us,” Grella said.