Questions linger after session on school closure proposal

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Board of Education Chair David Heller reads questions submitted by parents during an information session Monday at Central Avenue Elementary School. The school board's finance subcommittee is considering closing the school to save $1 million. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Parents left an information session Monday night on the proposal to close Central Avenue Elementary school feeling they still did not have the answers they sought.

“I think they have to figure out, long-term, what they want, and be honest about it,” said Michelle Grella, president of the school’s parent-teacher organization.

Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson told dozens of parents, assembled in the school’s cafeteria, that administrators have cut many wanted expenditures from next year’s proposed budget, and are now looking at closing the elementary school and Prospect Street Early Learning Center to help fill a large gap that remains.

“We’re down to $5 million more than what we think we can afford,” Tindall-Gibson said.

Closing both schools would eliminate nine teaching positions and save about $1.5 million, Tindall-Gibson said, but parents feared further budget cuts would reduce the teaching force even more.

“Where’s the other $3 million, $4 million going to come from?” Grella said. “I think that’s what the parents are so concerned about. No one wants a large class size.”

Parents asked why their school would close instead of Salem School, which was targeted for closing two years ago. Central Avenue has a gymnasium, a new roof and an elevator, while Salem does not.

Two handicapped students attend Central Avenue, including Hennessy Hernandez, 9, who uses a wheelchair.

“My daughter could never go to Salem School,” said her mother, Jessica Hernandez. “She couldn’t get in that building.”

If Central Avenue is closed, students will be distributed to Salem, Andrew Avenue, Maple Hill and Hop Brook elementary schools, Assistant Superintendent Brigitte Crispino said.

Students from the same neighborhoods will be kept together, and none of the students that were already attending the receiving schools will have to be reassigned.

If any other school was to close, students would have to be transferred between some other schools as well, Crispino said.

The school’s repeated failure to meet adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act was not a consideration, Tindall-Gibson said.

“It’s a financially driven decision that’s least disruptive for students,” Tindall-Gibson said.

Parents suggested closing the intermediate schools for fifth- and sixth-graders, but Tindall-Gibson said those were created years ago to save money.

The board will move ahead with an $81 million renovation of Naugatuck High School because that funding comes from different sources that cannot be used to fill a yearly budget gap.

“That will give us a first-class high school for your students when they get there,” Tindall-Gibson said.