STONINGTON — The Board of Education voted Thursday to consolidate the Pawcatuck and Mystic middle schools effective in September 2019, a year later than recommended by Superintendent Van Riley. Waiting a year means the fifth grade will remain at the middle schools for the 2018-19 school year instead of moving to the two elementary schools, which would have been necessary if the consolidation were effective this fall. The vote to consolidate was approved 5 to 1, with Board member Jack Morehouse the sole opponent.
Board member Alisa Morrison made the motion to approve the consolidation effective in September 2019; it was approved 4 to 2, with affirmatives from board members Alexa Garvey, Morrison, Morehouse and Frank Todisco, who chairs the board. Members Craig Esposito and Candace Anderson voted no.
Before the vote, Riley reiterated that the purpose was to provide better academic and extracurricular programs for students. “It was not recommended to save money,” he said.
A report dated Jan. 6 showed that the consolidation would save about $800,000 in salaries, cuts that would include the position of Mystic Middle School Principal Greg Keith, one fifth grade teacher, a music teacher, a physical education teacher, two special education teachers, a school nurse, 1.8 secretarial positions, a 0.8 custodial position, and five para-professionals. Timothy Smith, principal at Pawcatuck Middle School, will be the principal of the combined school in Mystic.
The estimated costs of the consolidation include about $800,000 in improvements to the Mystic facility, including additional parking, upgraded air-conditioning, and more lunch tables. The report also showed a potential estimated gain of $800,000 if the Central Office in Old Mystic were sold.
Before the vote, Anderson said she was concerned about the impact that the change would have on teachers in the next six months if the consolidation were go into effect this September. “I’ve also heard repeatedly that Stonington rushes decisions and ends up regretting it.”
Garvey, who was on the consolidation steering committee, said she wanted enough time for the process to be done correctly.
Morehouse said he had heard repeatedly from parents and community members that the decision was rushed. He also questioned whether projections on declining enrollment were correct, since a 10 percent error would mean the town would have more children than could fit in a single middle school.
During the public comment period, Ashley Gillece said Pawcatuck parents felt the board hadn’t listened to their concerns. She said it was hard to explain to her children why the town was going to close their neighborhood school but was moving the school administration into the building. “Pawcatuck is taking the hit on this one, our kids are the ones who are who are getting hit,” she said. She also said that increased bus ride times had been underestimated. “This is not a 15-minute increase,” she said. “It’s an hour and a half a day my child will spend on the bus.”
Rob Marseglia, of Pawcatuck, who chairs the K-12 Building Committee, spoke in favor of the consolidation, saying, “It’s hard to justify running two schools at less than half capacity.” He said that merging the school would provide equity for all middle school students and would also make transition to high school easier.
Gordon Lord, who has four children who will be affected by the consolidation, said, “I am for the merging of the schools because I think it makes sense; I didn’t grow up around here but I’m not a big fan of the Pawcatuck side and the Mystic side, it’s one community, so we can’t let the building define who we are as a community.”