Save Salem School petition circulating

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NAUGATUCK — The first organized effort to save the historic Salem Elementary School is under way.

The two top members of the school’s Parent School Association are organizing a petition that asks the Board of Education to reconsider a district-wide reconfiguration plan, which includes closing Salem, that it approved last week.

“This is not just about a building because a building doesn’t teach our children,” said PSA Vice President Julie Branco Sampaio, who is organizing the petition drive with PSA President Shannon Lopes. “It’s about our community preserving a historical artifact that was intended to be a school and is such a major part of our community.”

The petition asks the school board to reconsider closing Salem, which will save about $425,000 a year, and other reconfiguration plans, which include, among other plans, combining City Hill and Hillside middle schools into City Hill next year. The petition urges board members to rescind the vote it took last week that calls for the reconfiguration, and the petition asks the school board to offer a better solution to save money.

The board, in an effort to save about $1.5 million, passed a reconfiguration plan that not only calls for closing Salem and combining the middle schools but also includes moving Hop Brook Intermediate School to the Hillside building, moving Prospect Street Elementary School to the Hop Brook School building and creating an early childhood education center at the Prospect Street School building.

The board will also cut its teaching staff of roughly 400 by 52 positions, a plan that includes accepting 29 retirements and not replacing those people, eliminating 21 other positions, accepting a resignation and leave of absence and eliminating four full-time and one part-time noncertified staff positions.

The board, which once had a projected $7 million budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1, now has a projected deficit that could range from $1 million to $1.6 million, depending on how much it needs to spend on health insurance next year.

Board member David Heller said he’d rather close a school to save $425,000 than eliminate teaching positions to make up that amount.

Branco Sampaio, an alternate on the borough’s Board of Finance who has a student at Salem, said she realizes serious cuts need to be made in difficult economic times, but she doesn’t believe historical school buildings should be closed. She said she’d oppose closing Salem Elementary School, Hillside Middle School or the Tuttle House school board building, all historical and architecturally significant buildings downtown that were deeded to the borough for education.

Lopes said she moved to the borough’s west side because she wanted her children to attend Salem Elementary School and Hillside Middle School.

“Those two schools are why we moved here,” she said. “Those two schools are why a lot of people moved here. And a lot of us are now asking ourselves why we are still here.”