Board of Education approves closing schools

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Board of Education Chair David Heller, left, and Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson review documents regarding the financial impact of closing Central Avenue School and Prospect Street School during a special meeting Wednesday night. The board voted, 7-2, to close the schools. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — After nearly two months of discussing the possibility of closing Central Avenue School and Prospect Street School, the Board of Education made the move official.

The board voted, 7-2, to close the schools during a special meeting Wednesday night.

The vote means that Central Avenue students will be attending one of the five other borough elementary schools for the 2012-2013 school year. The preschool, Head Start and School Readiness programs, which are currently housed in Prospect Street School, would be moved over to Central Avenue.

According to Business Manager Wayne McAllister, there has been no decision yet with what will be done with the Prospect Elementary School building.

The proposal to close the schools was announced in early March as a way to help close a budget gap in the 2012-13 fiscal year. The budget gap stems from rising costs and a loss of $1.4 million in federal stimulus money. The board anticipates saving about $1 million from closing the schools.

While the board members seemed to all agree that a school needed to be closed in order to move forward with the budget, not all the members could agree on which school needed to be closed.

Board member Diana Malone felt that it didn’t make sense for the board to close Prospect Street School, when all it needs is an elevator to make it compliant with the American’s with Disabilities Act, while Salem Elementary School is completely handicap inaccessible.

“I mean, we’re going backwards as far as handicap accessibility,” Malone said. “You’re leaving a school that’s totally handicap inaccessible where a child’s parent, if they want to go see their class, they’re not able to.”

Board member James Scully also felt that Central was the wrong school to close.

He felt Salem should be closed since it was an older school.

“We’d find some kind of use for that building because it is just absolutely gorgeous, but it has outlived its use as a school,” Scully said of Salem.

Malone and Scully voted against the plan to close the schools.

Board member Glenn Connan said he had mixed feelings on which school to close.

Connan said if he took only the data about the two schools into consideration he would want Central Avenue to remain open because it is newer, larger, and more technologically advanced.

Connan was also concerned about Salem being inaccessible to handicapped people. He was worried what would happen if a handicapped student, who attended Central Avenue, had to go to Salem based on the redrawn map.

“What are we going to tell this student, that they can’t go there because they are in a wheelchair and put that student in a different school away from their friends,” Connan said.

However, if he based the closing on a business model, Connan said he would want to close Central Avenue because Salem students perform better.

“I know this isn’t a business, but sometimes I think it should be run more like a business. I have really mixed emotions about which school to close. I’ll vote in favor of closing Central because I think we need to close a school,” Connan said.

Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson said that all of the schools have accessibility issues, which differ from school to school, because they are such old buildings.

Tindall-Gibson explained that Central Avenue was not just picked at random. He said there were many factors that went into deciding which school to close.

“The administration has been working on it and analyzing it and looking at all the options since October,” Tindall-Gibson said.

He told the board that his recommendation is to take a school offline to create a budget that the town would be able to afford.

“As for taking a school offline, for us the logical choice for us is Central Ave. because it has the least impact on kids and families,” Tindall-Gibson said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo said that he understood that closing any of the schools would be disruptive to students. He explained, however, that the district was going to have to look into closing schools in the future.

“I think we have to make a decision to close these schools, and Central is the plan that’s on the table right now, so we can have the types of programs that are really going to effect and impact student learning,” Mezzo said.