The Stratford Board of Education is taking a hope-for-the-best, prepare-for-the-worst approach concerning the likelihood that an elementary school or two will have to close next school year due to a budget shortfall in fiscal year 2012-13.
School board Chairman Gavin Forrester said that budget process with the Town Council is "winding down," but if funding is similar to last year's then "every option is on the table."
"I don't think anyone on this board wants to close a school, but we have to use fiscal restraint," he told the school board at its meeting Monday night.
Executing that message is the Long Range Facilities Committee, a group created in May and charged with the following:
On the short term, dependent on what the Board of Education's budgetary allocation is after the Town Council passes the town budget, this committee will need to offer a recommendation to the full board on a possible reconfiguration of our student population, which may include moving 6th grade to middle school, closing a facility, or any combination thereof that maintains academics.
The committee -- in the person of chief operating officer Michael Feeney -- presented a report to the school board Monday.
"This report basically says if funding isn't there, this is what we can do," Forrester said. "It's not necessarily what we want to do."
The Report's Findings -- Maximize Class Size, Move 6th Grade
If class size was maximized at 21 students for K-2, and at 25 students for grades 3-6, and 6th-grade classes were moved to Wooster and Flood middle schools, the following number of seats would be created at the following elementary schools:
Stratford Academy, 94
Second Hill Lane, 158
Eli Whitney, 100
With those numbers in mind, the report proposed the following school closing simulations:
Note the existing pathways: Lordship, Stratford Academy, Nichols and Wilcoxson to Wooster Middle School to Stratford High School; Chapel, Eli Whitney, Second Hill Lane and Franklin to Flood Middle School to Bunnell High School. The committee aimed to keep those progressions intact.
If Lordship closed as a K-5 configuration (with 6th grade moving to Wooster), the 220 K-5 students could be placed at Stratford Academy (55), Nichols (72), and Wilcoxson (93).
If Lordship closed as a K-6 configuration, 96 of the school's 245 students would have to change their pathway to Franklin. However, the rest of the students would not have their pathways to middle school and high school altered.
If Franklin closed as a K-5 configuration, the 260 students could be placed at Second Hill Lane (133), Chapel (48), and Eli Whitney (79). However, 6th-graders following the existing pathway to Flood would over-enroll that middle school by 7 students.
If Franklin closed as a K-6 configuration, the district would need to add an additional classroom, regardless of pathway.
If Wilcoxson closed as a K-5 configuration (with 6th grade moving to Wooster), 107 of the 329 K-5 students would have their pathways to middle and high school altered.
If Nichols closed as a K-5 configuration (with 6th grade moving to Wooster), 124 students of the 392 K-5 students would have their pathways to middle and high school altered.
Stratford Academy would not be able to absorb Lordship students as a K-5 configuration without increasing maximum class size.
Construction Costs at Middle Schools
The report said it would cost about $455,000 to renovate Flood and Wooster middle schools to hold the 6th grade. Flood would have to add 11 classrooms and Wooster would have to build six more.
The report by the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee said the Mayor's office has confirmed that the $455,000 could be offset through the school board's existing bond allocations.
The report estimated that savings of $216,000 could be achieved if Lordship closed and 6th grade was moved to the middle school.
The operational savings of closing Lordship would be about $422,000, but it would cost $154,000 to bus 6th-graders to middle school and $51,000 for K-5 busing, the report said.
Savings of $34,000 could be achieved if Franklin closed and 6th grade was moved to the middle school, the report estimated. The number is lower than the Lordship scenario because although operational savings are similar, Franklin's K-5 busing costs come to about $205,000.
The cost of busing special education students was not factored in the savings for both schools.
School Board Hopeful for Change
"It's real clear that all this is contingent on the budget we get from the Council," board member David Kennedy said. "My takeaway is the Council will now know what will happen if they don't give us the budget we need."
Another critical contingency is the amount of funding Stratford will get in state aid from the .
In the past, Stratford has received about $20 million in ECS funding, but the formula may soon change and Stratford could see funding in the amount of $35 million, board member Joseph Crudo said.
"If we had that $15 million we wouldn't be having this conversation," he said.
School board Vice Chairman Charles Lindberg said it would be "inadvisable" to crowd the middle schools with the amount of students proposed in the report. He said maximizing class size at 21 students for K-2 and at 25 students for grades 3-6 would put a lot of stress on teachers.
"I'm comfortable saying sometimes the best decision is no decision," Crudo said when asked to "accept" the committee's report. In the end, however, all members voted to approve the report, which will now be placed for perusal before the Town Council's eyes.
"There will be a continuance of this committee with new Board of Education members," Forrester said.
Tough Shoes To Fill
Prior to the report's presentation, Stratford Academy PTA President Olga Pena spoke during public comments.
Pena said closing a school or schools is not the answer to the problem. She urged the school board to talk to state officials and legislators to work on securing funding. She said there is great momentum of achievement at Stratford schools, and would hate to see that halted because of a budget shortfall.
She did, however, admit the difficulties of the situation.
"I really wouldn't want to be in your shoes," she said told the school board.
Editor's note: This article was originally posted 1:24 p.m. Tuesday. The publish date and time was changed to accommodate layout preferences.