The Naugatuck Board of Education voted 7-2 in favor of closing Central Avenue School for the upcoming school year and repurposing the building as an early learning center.
So, next year, students in the K-to-4 Central Avenue School will be reassigned to the five other borough elementary schools, according to school officials.
Additionally, the board decided that Prospect Street School would cease to be an education facility, although officials said there is currently no plan on what will happen to the building. Naugatuck Head Start, School Readiness and the special education kindergarten programs — — will now be housed at Central Avenue.
The two dissenting board members were James Scully and Diana Malone. Both favored closing instead of Central, arguing that the Salem building, despite being a beautiful structure, is outdated and lacks handicap accessibility.
Malone also pointed to the fact that Central has a gymnasium and a better cafeteria than Salem.
The vote ended weeks of discussion amongst board members about how to get the proposed budget, which at one point hit over $62 million, to an acceptable level that the joint Board of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance will approve. By comparison, the 2011-12 budget was set at $57 million.
Closing both the K-4 operation at Central Avenue, as well as shuttering Prospect Street completely, garner a total of $1.4 million savings to Naugatuck. That amount alone could plug the budget gap left by the loss of $1.4 million in federal stimulus money that the board of education was allocated in 2010.
There are nine teachers currently at Central Avenue School. Some, if not all, of them could be reassigned to other school buildings depending on several variables, including how many teachers across the district plan to retire at the end of the year.
Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson said there are currently seven teachers who plan to retire.
Proposed Budget Increase Down to 3.4 Percent
On Wednesday, the board voted in favor of a budget that called for a 3.4 percent spending increase.
That spending hike includes contractual increases for staff employees, as well as additional funding for a few select positions — namely an assistant business manager for the Board of Education, the , a part-time music teacher at the grade 3-4 level, a social worker at City Hill Middle School and a computer education teacher for the K-6 level.
Money for a part-time police officer at City Hill is also staying in the budget, but a $560,000 technology expense for tablet computers was eliminated. The board also eliminated $42,000 for staff development.
The board also saved $658,039 in health insurance costs by securing a new insurance plan with Aetna rather than the current staff insurance carrier, Cigna. There was also an additional $344,000 savings in the staff insurance plan.
Finally, the board cut $165,000 that they were going to use to upgrade facilities. Borough Controller Wayne McAllister said he spoke with Facilities Director Mike Lynch, who told McAllister that some of the upgrades could be completed with money from the current fiscal budget, which ends June 30.
Board Chairman David Heller said both he and the administration will begin working on reassigning of Central Avenue School students “tomorrow.” He said he plans to work with Parent Teacher Group President Michelle Grella and other Central Avenue parents to assure their input is considered during the student repopulation.
Assistant Superintendent Brigette Crispino said the district plans to have details about what school each student will be going to by the middle of May.