Panel Recommends Moving 3rd Grade To Hanaford, Eldredge
Such a move, however, would require about $100,000 added to a budget already $1.2 million higher than this year's.
Supt. Victor Mercurio laid out the groundwork, survey results, building requirements and challenges to elementary school grade reconfiguration, then presented the Grade Reconfiguration Panel recommendation anticipated from the beginning: Move the third grades from Meadowbrook and Frenchtown to Hanaford and Eldredge.
The School Committee, which heard the presentation during a meeting Tuesday night, will vote on the recommendation at a future meeting.
The recommendation, coming on the same night that the School Committee voted to approve a $33.7 million budget for 2013, contains some additional costs the district can ill afford, including the addition of a full-time special education teacher and additional speech therapist help at Eldredge. According to School Committee Vice Chairman Bob Durant, a "back-of-the-envelope" estimate of additional costs for moving the third grades is around $100,000.
The 2013 budget is $1.2 million higher than 2012, even with last minute cuts of $288,000 presented at Tuesday's meeting. That figure would require a 3.7 percent tax rate increase, assuming flat municipal spending. By state law, the town cannot increase the tax rate more than 4 percent a year.
Grade reconfiguration at the elementary level comes now that the sixth grades from both Hanaford and Eldredge were moved to the new Cole Middle School, leaving those schools with just two grades apiece.
Of the 395 district parents who completed an online survey about elementary school grade reconfiguration, responses supported moving the third grade. In response to the statement, "My preference would be for a pre-K to second grade early learning center for my child," the majority (35 percent) strongly agreed, while 22 percent strongly disagreed.
While the idea of returning to neighborhood schools had been voiced, in the survey 46 percent of respondents said they did not support the spending associated with reconfiguring the four elementary schools to pre-K to fifth grade.
The addition of all-day kindergarten was not part of this survey or the reconfiguration study proper, but it loomed over the proceedings. The state has flirted with mandating all-day kindergarten for decades and it remains a dream of parents of preschool-age children. Still, there is no indication it will happen in the near future.
Nonetheless, the specter of all-day K was factored into the panel's decision. By moving the third grades out of Meadowbrook and Frenchtown, room would open up at both schools to accommodate all-day kindergarten if it came to pass.
The School Committee meets again on Tuesday, March 20. Chairwoman Deidre Gifford was absent.