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Head O' Meadow Parents Oppose Closing Their Children's School

The Board of Education moves toward commissioning a study of the issue, which could put off a school closing decision for three years.

 

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.

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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.

Think First October 03, 2012 at 01:39 PM
Here we go again with the horse leading the cart. Let's waste more money on another study. Unless someone has a magic crystal ball, no one knows what is going to happen to enrollment numbers in the near future. I can tell you that in the long run, which is how the town SHOULD be thinking, enrollment numbers will pick up. The economy is recovering, albeit slowly. And, home sales in Newtown will also start to pick up. Newtown is about the only town in Fairfield County with real, buildable land and lots of new construction which is VERY attractive to young families. How attractive will our town be to prospective families when we have 26 kids per elementary school classroom? Let me answer that ... not very. And once again, our brilliant BOE is looking to close one of the more modern school buildings. Someone PLEASE explain that to me!!!! Someone on the BOE must really like the old, musty, out of date type of school buildings that cannot even prepare hot lunches for the kids. You know ... the ones that have 50 year old heating systems and such. Perhaps it is time to hire a consultant to examine our BOE and the lack of knowledge they bring to the table? They seem to be completely out of touch with the town they are representing.
Steve Nicolosi October 03, 2012 at 01:40 PM
Why doesn't the 5th grade go back to the school's they came from and the 6th grade go back to the middle school. That way the Reed school could be use for other town uses, perhaps a new senior center, etc. The building the senior center is in now could be expanded for the Children's Adventure Center that is currently sharing the space now, as they both need expansion.
Think First October 03, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Oops ... cart leading the horse!
Sam Mihailoff October 03, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Solution = another expansion to the high school Hey makes as much sense as any/all alternatives out there...why not be blatantly ridiculous.
Mason October 03, 2012 at 02:47 PM
I personally attended Head O'Meadow...now a freshman in college and I can't imagine it ever being closed. For an elementary school, it feels like the most modern one we have in town compared to hawley, etc. It set the foundation for the rest of my education in newtown and those teachers were some of the most influential people for me as a young kid. We must think about the effect this will have on kids who are in middle years at the school...if it's ever closed and they go from HOM to Middle gate for example, that can be a disturbance on their education based off the fact that its a new, uncomfortable environment that basically FORCED upon them. I personally won't ever advocate CLOSING schools when education is one of the fields that OPENS futures. I know my opinion maybe a little bias since I went there but it's something I'm sure a lot of other people who attended that school could speak to.
Mason October 03, 2012 at 02:54 PM
I agree Donna...to a certain extent I think its a combination of people in power-positions who don't know how advantageously use them for the bettering of our town. Secondly, I think most of the current BOE like you said is out of touch with today's society. I graduated high school this summer...but in my experiences at the middle school I would say it is the one building I would ever advocate shutting down. Literally, we didn't and still don't have air-conditioning there except for one small corridor. In 2012...this maybe one of the most primitive aspects of a school I've seen...great teachers, poor environment.
Marilyn October 03, 2012 at 04:03 PM
I'm pretty sure the Reed School wasn't built to be a Senior Center. My child's 4th grade class already has 25 kids in it, so how will the average be 25+ if they move HOM kids? Pretty sure there's not room in the elementary schools for the 5th graders...isn't that why they built the 5/6 school to begin with?
Paul Alexander October 03, 2012 at 05:25 PM
"The Board of Education moves toward commissioning a study of the issue..." More cowardly "leaders" afraid to lead. Afraid to make difficult but necessary decisions. Afraid to act in a timely manner. Kicking the can down the road and off their agenda so they can hide from whatever special interest group they might be offending. Blech. Instead, let’s commission a study we can hide behind three years from now. The town needs LEADERS, not more go-along-to-get-along politicians. And don't give me a ration of "we need to build consensus" BS. The concept of consensus building has been abused and Frankenmorphed into anti-leadership. The sort of political pap you regurgitate in front of the Bee’s candidate endorsement board when you want to be elected. The proper role of consensus building is NOT pasively taking the pulse of the mob and going off in that direction. That is easy. Proper consensus building is actively BUILDING a consensus for the vision of the leadership and sticking to your guns because you know it is the right thing to do. That is hard, which is why I suspect the board is afraid of doing it. Do your freaking job already!
Paul Alexander October 03, 2012 at 05:43 PM
What private sector firm would ask themselves..."Hey, we might have a capacity and utilization mismatch"...and then have an outside entity answer the question for them AND take three years to do it?
Veritas vos liberabit October 03, 2012 at 05:49 PM
CHILL Skipper, take the afternoon off, head down to the Tiki Bar, looks like the up-coming debate has you all stressed out. Ready - Fire Aim !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Alex Tytler October 03, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Almost any public company. Here's how it goes. Have an idea but don't want to be responsible if it is an utter failure? Hire Boston Consulting Group for a few 100 k and tell them how you want their consultant to come down, present the findings to the board and execute. Good idea=all credit to you, bad idea, blame BCG and walk away. Done everyday.
Alex Tytler October 03, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Obamalama getting gutted tonight should be entertaining!
Daniel Patti October 03, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Mason, I always like to see people your age speak up, we need more of that. I think we can all agree no one wants a school to close but considering the current economic environment, this town most likely cannot afford to operate 4 schools
Think First October 03, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Mason, thank you so much for writing in with your thoughts. I am THRILLED to hear from someone that has just experienced the Newtown Schools and can really give the leaders of this town something to think about. We need more input from younger people that can lend insight into their thoughts on decisions the town is making. Newtown is your town today, and hopefully will be your town in the future. To the BOE and BOF ... take notice. Mason represents the town's future. The decisions you make today WILL impact whether or not Mason, and his peers, decide to come back and raise a family in this town.
Paul Alexander October 03, 2012 at 08:17 PM
I'll be watching the Yankees clinch the AL East instead.
Paul Alexander October 03, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Exactly. Cowards.
Think First October 04, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Steve, I'd like to respectfully respond to your comments about repurposing the Reed School as a senior center. Just to be sure I have the facts, because you know what they say about people that assUme things, you feel that a building designed to hold and educate +/- 1,000 children should be given to the seniors for their use as a senior center; a social gathering place. And those approximately 1,000 students should then be squeezed into the other schools in town. Your suggestion implies that you are putting the social needs of the seniors in our town ahead of the educational needs of the town's children. Additionally, this implies that tax dollars spent to build said schools should be given to the seniors to create a place of recreation solely for the elderly of Newtown, while taking resources away from the children of Newtown. Newtown has a legal responsibility to educate the youth of the town. The town does not have a legal responsibility to provide for the recreation for any one particular sector of the population. The town has no obligation to build a recreational facility for you, me, or any one demographic group and many feel that tax dollar funded recreational facilities should include everyone in the town.
Think First October 04, 2012 at 01:41 AM
And further to my point, Reed is by far Newtown's gem school. There aren't many towns that can boast a REAL intermediate school for their 5th & 6th graders. Reed has given Newtown bragging rights with regard to the level and priority of education in this town. The school was designed for the children and should be kept that way. As a parent and tax paying member of this town, I moved here with the expectation that town officials took education seriously and made it a priority. Any decision by town officials (hello BOE!) to repurpose it's newer, more modern schools like Reed and HOM would be short sighted and foolish. If this were to happen you can be assured of a decline in enrollment in our school district. Families WILL move away and couples WILL elect to purchase homes in other towns that consider their schools and the education of their most vulnerable and impressionable town members as a priority. I won't even go there with regard to all of our property values if prospective home buyers get wind of the lack of support of the schools by our own BOE.
Newtown Parent October 04, 2012 at 02:21 AM
I purchased my home in Newtown because of the school system. I can guarantee that if you tell a prospective buyer that their child will be in an overcrowded classroom without AC they will not buy here.
Marty October 04, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I have heard that the Children's Adventure Center gets their space for free from our town (along with other payments), so if the Reed School is converted to a Senior Center and the CAC takes over the entire space, their subsidy gets larger - the taxpayers pay more without their consent. Also, if the Senior Center moves to Reed that means that the taxpayers will be footing the bill for this space for the seniors. Doesn't that mean that the expense will just be moved from the Education budget over the the town budget? Won't the taxpayers still be paying the same amount to run those buildings? The answer is yes. We aren't saving the taxpayer a dime and, in fact, may be spending more of their hard earned dollars. The only way to SAVE money is to completely close a building taking it out of service. This is a poor plan. It accomplishes lots of negatives 1. Doesn't save taxpayers anything 2. Reduces property value by rendering our town unattractive to young families thru crammed school spaces and larger classes 3. Enlarging our town-subsidized day care/preschool program (CAC). Sounds like a study needs to be done only the parameters should be very broad. The problem with Newtown and studies is that when the our leaders don't get the answers they want, they disregard the study.
Yay Write October 05, 2012 at 02:48 AM
So let me get this straight..The BOE and others want to close a brand new multi-million dollar school and keep Hawley open? That makes zero sense! First of all there is no way any thing should be talked about until Superintendent's status has taken care of. Ether get rid of her (That's what I prefer) or renew her contract! It's funny how she has taken this school system apart. We need a leader in that position! She has failed as a leader and needs to go. Sooner rather than later!
Mike Jones October 07, 2012 at 04:48 PM
@Yay Write - It's not Janet's request to close HOM. It appears to be driven by the Chairperson.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com October 08, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Yup, we have watched that on the Queen Street consulting...and if they don't like the consultants recomendations they just order another study.
ACE October 10, 2012 at 03:51 AM
I want everyone to reflect back a few years ago. The town was worried about a "bubble" of students entering the school system. The poor decision of the town to renovate the current High School is what we are living with now because we did not/do not have town leaders that have the mindset to prepare for the future and look outside the box to solve problems. The town also has this "old school" (excuse the pun) mentality that is adding to the burden of the taxpayer. We can no longer survive as a "residential" town only. We need to be thinking outside the box to make this town attractive to home buyers again. We can still maintain a residential vibe if we join together and get creative now. We missed a window when the town decided to add to the high school. Let's take an inventory. Apparently we need a new fire station, police station, ambulance headquarters, senior center, and town offices. So we go and renovate Fairfield Hills for town offices and we don't make them big enough. Again poor planning. We should have attracted a community or private college to that property. Bringing in tax funds and the clientele that would support our small ma and pa businesses. Then where should we have put town offices? Simple. By building a new High School we would have been able to re-purpose the old High School.
ACE October 10, 2012 at 03:58 AM
con't-- We could have moved the old Middle School to the old High school. Thus having plenty of room to have grades 7-9 if we had a "bubble" and when the "bubble" passed back to grades 7-8. In that we would have had a state of the art Middle school with fantastic extra curricular facilities! Then we could have re-purposed the middle school for Town Offices (right in the center of town!). This could have also supported a new police, ambulance, youth and senior center. You would have had a kitchen for the seniors and youth center and a gym for the youth center! This would have saved us millions in building a new police/ambulance facilities. If the police still wanted to be separate we could have build a new facility in the back fields and put the new fire station in the old Middle School as well. Now with one decision we solved many numerous problems. But we can not go back on our past decisions. But we can look ahead. The only way to bring taxes down is to get people to want to move to town. We don't have anything to attract these future purchasers. Wait, yes we do! We have fantastic teachers that get fantastic results with the least amount of support. This is something we need to broadcast. Our kids, with the help of our teachers, have scored in the top 5 in our DRG across the board k-12! How do we get taxes down to make homes attractive again? One, support our teachers. Start working with them instead of knocking them in the paper. Two let's be open to larger businesses.
ACE October 10, 2012 at 04:06 AM
con't... The Blue Linx property is just sitting there ripe for a box type store. Oh, I know bad words but we need to start thinking outside the box. This property is away from most residential properties and right on state road 25. A movie theater and upscale chain restaurant would be perfect! Another strip mall is not going to do it. Closing a school is not an answer either. Closing Hawley will result in the town loosing access to the Hawley fund. Let's start the conversation. Let's come up with some creative solutions instead of bashing each other and the public sector workers that keep this town running. These people bust their butts every day, just like those in the private sector if not more. Let's keep the businesses on the outskirts like Trumbull did in order to maintain our small town feel. What about a great public golf course? There really isn't much of that around. Let's get talking now. Let the town officials know we want to invest in our education and the future or our town. If we are going to survive we need to take the jump now and not sit back and wait for everything to improve. Sometimes you need to take risks to be rewarded and calculated risks are those worth taking.
Ben October 10, 2012 at 05:27 AM
What about turning all the turning the elementary schools to k-8. The idea would be to add fifth grade at the start of next school year, sixth grade in 2014-15, seventh grade in 2015-16 and eighth grade in 2017-18. Just an ideal it would cut down on transportation allow for a more community feeling and a sense of security and less transition for students which at times can be very stressful. Also it would allow more movement for students to take advance classes in a subject area. Just an ideal??
Dawne Kornhaas October 10, 2012 at 09:40 AM
ACE, those are great ideas! I agree too that we should have built a new high school at FFH campus and move the middle school to the high school and make the middle school an administrative/senior center etc. But like you said it's to late for that now so lets move forward and THINK LONG term for a change. We could use a Trader Joe's or a Staples type of store and the Blue Lynx site you mentioned is perfect for that.
Yay Write October 10, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Ben... Really K-8...That is nuts.

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