From the very first comment, the discussion Tuesday on the potential closure of two K-4 school buildings centered on class sizes.
Parents voiced their concerns during the Board of Education public hearing that, if Central Avenue School were to close next year, then all of the Naugatuck elementary schools would see a spike in student populations in the classroom.
“We’re not a business; this is not a product that we are creating,” said Joan McCasland, a mother of two borough children who teaches third grade outside of Naugatuck. “These children, they are our future, and it’s our responsibility to meet their needs. I find it hard to do that with 28 students in a class.”
With the looming 2012-13 budget vote inching closer every day, the board has been working on a budget that may call for the closure of both Central Avenue and Prospect Street schools, as a way to fill a spending gap. The public hearing at gave parents a platform to voice their opinions and concerns about proposed closures — which have been the over the past few months.
No decision was made Tuesday, although officials said there could be a vote on the closure as early as Wednesday evening when the board convenes for a special 7 p.m. meeting at the in the Tuttle Building.
School officials said they wanted to figure out the school closure situation as soon as possible so parents could be informed in a timely manner what changes could be coming before the start of the year.
“We’re going to let you know as quickly and expeditiously, and engage with as many people in that process, as we can,” said board Chairman David Heller.
During the start of the public discussion, which saw a modest crowd at City Hill Middle School, the board members handed out a short packet that explained the financial savings as well as the changes in class sizes under the closure proposal. According to the chart, there would no longer be 15-to-16-student classes, which some schools have now.
Instead, no K-4 class would be lower than 19 students, the chart explained. Also, under the proposed changes, Salem and Andrew Avenue schools would have 28 students in their respective grade 4 classes.
According to Assistant Superintendent Brigette Crispino, the class sizes would still be within state regulation.
Despite this, the spike in numbers didn't sit well for many parents at the meeting.
“I’m more concerned with the equity of the students,” said Cynthia Brodeur, a mother of two Naugatuck children and a middle school math teacher outside the borough.
Brodeur added, “That’s very scary, especially at a grade level where we’re dealing with standardized testing and trying to meet adequate yearly progress reports for CMTs.”
Another parent, Laurie Somohano, said she recently moved to Naugatuck just two months ago. A parent of twins in grade 3 at Central Avenue, Somahano asked the board if there was any other way to “find money for the budget without our children paying the price?”
“I just feel that my children deserve the best education they can get,” she said. “Truly if I knew this before I moved here, I probably wouldn’t have moved here.”
Michelle Grella, the head of Central Avenue’s parent-teacher group, asked about the effects these closures could have on staff for the rest of the elementary schools. School officials have said seven teachers plan on retiring at the end of this school year, meaning seven of the nine Central Avenue teachers are guaranteed jobs.
“My concern is that you’re going to close these schools, you’re still going to be short and then you’re going to have to hit more teachers which is going to change all of these class sizes,” Grella said.
Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson said that will not be the case in this situation, because the borough has to meet the minimum requirement for teachers by state statute.
Patch posted multiple updates during the public hearing on our Facebook page. Click the link to see some of the discussions that went on during the course of the evening.
Heller responded to many of the questions by saying smaller class size is very important to the board. But, as Tindall-Gibson noted, the push to close a school this year — leading to those higher class sizes — is being pushed by the budget.
Right now, there’s a 4.5 percent proposed increase on the table when factoring in the closure of Central and Prospect Street schools. If this proposed spending hike were to be approved during the budget process it would be the highest budget increase in three years.
And, as school officials have said in recent months, it’s a matter of balancing proposed spending increase up against the tax situation in Naugatuck.
Mayor Robert Mezzo mentioned during the Tuesday meeting there’s a chance the joint Board of Mayor and Burgesses and Board of Finance may not accept a 4.5 percent spending hike, meaning the school district would have to go back to the drawing board on finding places to cut in the budget.