Dozens of Head O’ Meadow School parents, concerned that the Newtown Board of Education might vote to close their neighborhood school, turned out at the board’s meeting Tuesday, Oct. 2, to oppose it.
The board actually was only considering having a new study conducted to review its future school facilities needs, although with pupil enrollment projected to continue to decline in coming years, another school closing might be inevitable.
And Head O’ Meadow School, being the smallest of the town’s four elementary schools, might yet become the preferred school closing target.
However, from the discussion at the meeting Tuesday, that decision is likely to be as much as three years away.
The parents’ concerns were raised in August by an off-hand remark by a school board member that suggested Head O’ Meadow might be on the chopping block much sooner.
Instead, Chairman Debbie Leidlein asked School Supt. Dr. Janet Robinson to look into hiring a consultant to conduct a facilities needs study that would include updating the district’s enrollment projections.
Leidlein said last spring’s budget battle hinged on critics who asked why the school budget kept going up even though school enrollment went down.
"I feel very strongly, in light of everything that’s been going on, that we really owe it to the community to look at this," she said.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Head O’ Meadow School parents strongly opposed closing the school.
"A lot of us moved to a specific home so our children could go to Head O’ Meadow," said Joanna Rosen of Sugar Lane. The school is air conditioned, which she said was good for her son’s allergies.
Parents who spoke at the meeting questioned whether closing the school would save any money, or if it did that the school district would benefit from the savings.
They also said it would cause higher class sizes at the other three schools.
According to Robinson, the district has 1,657 students in grades K-4 and 64 classrooms in the other three elementary schools. If divided evenly, that would mean an average class size of 25.9 per class, she said.
Robinson told the board based on advice from administrators in other districts and from officials at the New England School Development Council, she recommended putting out a request for proposals (RFP) for a consultant to do a study.
Newtown school officials are preoccupied with the 2013-14 school budget, however, and the earliest they can provide the board with a draft RFP to consider would be next month.
Robinson said the cost for consultants hired by other districts averaged about $18,000, but she hoped to pay less than that.
It might not be until sometime in early 2013 that the school board finally hires a consultant, and the money for it won’t be available until the next school budget year starts in July.
Officials said the study could take nearly two years to complete, so Leidlein said she expected the soonest the board might close a school would be about three years from now.