STONINGTON — The consolidation of the two middle schools is still under discussion and “not a done deal,” but would be a good educational decision for the town’s students, Superintendent Van Riley said Thursday.
Riley said the board still wants to hear questions and concerns from the public about the potential consolidation and has scheduled a public discussion Monday at 6 p.m. at Stonington High School. The public can also comment at the board’s regular meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. at the high school.
The Board of Education had originally planned to make its final decision in December but will wait for its meeting on Jan. 11, Riley said.
“The board wanted to make sure they heard every comment from every parent and staff member, every community member, so that’s why they’re taking additional time to make that decision,” Riley said. “It’s not a done deal but in my opinion it makes a lot of sense; it’s a good educational decision for the town and all the students, but we’ll see where it goes in the next month or so.”
Citing declining enrollment, financial savings and greater educational opportunities for students, the Board of Education has been discussing the consolidation of the Pawcatuck Middle School and Mystic Middle School for more than a year. With a capacity of 525 to 625 students, Mystic Middle School is large enough to hold the 441 students projected for 2021-2026. Pawcatuck Middle School’s capacity is 380. The numbers also reflect moving the fifth grade back to the elementary schools, which are currently being expanded and renovated.
The consolidation could save the district about $800,000 to $1 million because many duplicated positions could be eliminated.
Educationally, declining enrollments have made it difficult to offer programs like world language, music, arts, and technology on a consistent basis at both schools because they often require teachers to work split or part-time positions.
The consolidation would allow for more educational opportunities for all of the middle school students, Riley said.
“If we end up having two small middle schools of about 200 students each, we’ll have part-time teachers, split assignments, and we won’t be able to duplicate all the programs for both schools,” he said.
Questions about additional busing time for Pawcatuck students were examined in a district study comparing the routes going to Pawcatuck Middle School versus going to Mystic Middle School, Riley said.
Mary Ribeiro, administrative assistant for transportation and finance and former manager of the First Student bus company serving the district, studied the Pawcatuck Middle School’s five bus routes, including all stops. The bus rides to Pawcatuck Middle School ran from 18 to 25 minutes, compared with 30 to 41 minutes to Mystic Middle School, a difference of 12 to 18 minutes depending on the route.
The study included stops for fifth grade students, which would be eliminated once they move to the elementary schools, reducing the ride times for grades 6, 7, and 8. The study didn’t include potential changes for route efficiencies that would shorten riding time.
In a Nov. 9 memo to the Board of Education, Riley said the bus times would be similar to Mystic Middle School students’ ride times, which average 36 minutes each, with half the routes at 40 minutes or longer. The district policy is to keep all routes under 60 minutes.
“Busing will be a little bit longer but we think the quality of the programs we’ll be able to offer are just so much more for all the students that this is an important decision for the board,” Riley said.
The timing of the potential consolidation could be the fall of 2018 or 2019, he said.
“We want to make sure we get the timing first. If the timing is 2018, then we have all this spring to get students, staff members and parents together and working on things; if it’s the following year then we have a year and a half,” he said. “Either way we want to make sure that we have participation from all the different groups — students, staff, parents — to get together as a new middle school.”
If the consolidation goes forward, the Mystic Middle School would be renamed and would have a new mascot, he said.
“We’re not sending Pawcatuck students to Mystic Middle school, we’re sending both Pawcatuck and Mystic students to a new middle school, a combined Stonington town middle school,” Riley said.
The Middle School Consolidation Report is available at www.stoningtonschools.org. Questions about the potential consolidation can be emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org