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Should Milford Move to One High School?

School committee explores the option. Let us know what you think by opining in the comments section below.

A Jonathan Law graduate receives her diploma in 2013. Credit: Jason Bagley
A Jonathan Law graduate receives her diploma in 2013. Credit: Jason Bagley

Could Milford be headed toward a one high school district?

It’s possible, as all the options before a long-term planning committee point to such a reconfiguration.

The Long Range Planning Committee was formed over the summer to address a shrinking student body that has 1,100 fewer students than it did a decade ago.

The diverse 31-member group – consisting of parents, teachers, principals, administrators and others – has been looking at possible reconfigurations.

Aided by external consultant Milone & MacBroom, the committee is expected to present a slate of options to the full Milford Board of Education in March.

Weighing ‘alternatives’

Of those “alternatives” so far reviewed, three seem to have emerged as favorites among members. Two of them require the district build a new high school and one calls for Foran to be retrofitted to handle an additional 1,000 students.

All three of the one high school proposed reconfigurations – the so-called alternatives A, D and E – revert back to a three-transition system, which is the preferred outcome among members.

Currently, there are four transitions between schools as a student makes his or her way through the district with K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12 schools.

Additionally, a direct feeder system – where classmates stay together from school to school – is possible with all three options, though it would require “disparate” elementary school sizes, officials say.

A new high school or a renovated Foran would house 1,700 to 1,900 students. Currently, there are 910 students at Foran and 968 students at Jonathan Law High School.

Fewer elementary schools, district-wide pre-K

In addition to the cost savings realized by only operating one high school, the district would further save by consolidating schools at the lower grades – while also adding district-wide pre-K.

Here’s what would happen under “Alternative A,” in which a new high school would be built:

  • Foran and Law would transition to grades 5-8 middle schools and each hold 900 to 1,000 students.
  • Pre-K to grade 4 elementary students would be split up between five schools.
  • Current middle schools East Shore, Harborside and West Shore would transition to elementary schools, each holding about 500 students.
  • And current elementary schools Mathewson and Orange Ave would take on more students for a total of about 400 each.

This elementary school setup would yield an estimated “project cost avoidance” of $12.3 million over the next three to five years, officials say. But renovations at Mathewson and Orange Ave, including the addition of gyms, would cost some $12 million.

One of the committee’s main concerns with this arrangement – along with the cost ($240 million) and size of a new high school and larger middle schools – is that kids in grade 5 may not be ready to leave elementary school.

Onto ‘Alternative D’

Like the previous “A” alternative, “D” calls for the construction of a new high school and the transition of Foran and Law into middle schools. But it adds one more elementary school (Orchard Hills) and arranges the district in a grades pre-K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 format.

Under this option, Foran and Law would take on about 250 fewer students than option “A,” but an added $6 million would be needed for renovations, including a gym, at Orchard Hills.

Leading a presentation at the committee’s meeting this week, Michael Zuba of Milone & MacBroom, the consulting firm, said there’s a “pretty strong consensus” among the group to go back to a K-5 configuration.

Thomas Jokubaitus, an associate of Zuba’s, warned members that this decision can’t be “knee-jerk,” adding that it must work long-term – five, 10, 15 years down the road.

This fall, both Democratic and Republican Board of Education candidates campaigned on a promise to return K-5 schools to the district.

“After listening to parents who have lived the new configuration as well as some faculty, I have come to realize that the decision made in 2010 may not have been the correct decision,” Republican Suzanne DiBiase, now a member of the committee, said before elections. “I believe that it is in the best interest of our families (that) we need to return to the K-5 program.”

Faced with a $2.2 million cut to its proposed budget, the school board May 2010 endorsed action to close Simon Lake School and divide the districts eight remaining K-5 schools into four K-2 schools and four grades 3-5 schools.

‘Alternative E’ – Retrofitting Foran

Estimates show renovating Foran to hold all the city’s future high schoolers would cost $56 million, a far cry from the approximate $240 million for a new facility.

But “Alternative E” would require an additional $24 million for gyms and minor renovations at Mathewson, Meadowside, Orange Ave and Orchard Hills, which would all serve as pre-K-5 schools and each hold about 400 students. The other two elementary schools under this option are Harborside and West Shore, which would each hold 500 to 600 students.

The middle schools under this plan are Law and East Shore, both projected to house between 650 and 750 students.

Foran was built in 1973. The 255,000-square-foot building is on 27 acres. Law is smaller (200,000 square feet) and older (built in 1962). The latter sits on 33 acres but the majority of that is reportedly wetlands, which the city in general can’t expand on.

‘A true, finite resource’

One of the hurdles to potentially bringing a new high school to Milford lies in the fact that there’s simply not that much available property in the city.

“Land is a true, finite resource in Milford,” Zuba said.

The proposed 331,000-square-foot new high school would require 50 to 55 acres of land.

While most of the committee’s discussion this week focused on the one high school configurations, Superintendent Elizabeth Feser at one point did ask the consultants if some two high school options could be spelled out for the group.

The committee’s next meeting is Jan. 14. It is open to the public. The group meets in the Board of Education room at Parsons Government Center.

Click here to read up on meeting minutes and agendas and to view documents and materials.

Chris December 13, 2013 at 10:35 AM
I took adult ed at both Milford and Branford HIgh Schools. Jonathan Law had no soaps or towels in the bathroom, (great way to spread germs), the bathroom was in disrepair whereas the entire Branford High school was immaculate and beautifully designed. Whatever Milford decides to do, they need to spruce up their schools. I wish those in charge would take a walk into Branford High to see the stark difference. If one high school would allow redesign and upkeep to happen, it would be worth it. And the other poster said elementary schools need work!??? Sad.
Fake Name December 13, 2013 at 10:36 AM
Isn't it funny how all the solutions to declining student population will cost millions of dollars and do nothing to address falling test scores? If you have school aged kids get them out while you can. For the foreseeable future Milford's BOE will be redistricting, building and renovating. With all that on their plate, how much time, money and energy do you think they'll devote to your child's education?
Joannie December 13, 2013 at 10:42 AM
Yes, that is part of what I meant in fixing the lower grades. It all starts there!!! Correct what needs to be corrected FIRST!! Then maybe things can move forward correctly!!! Fix meaning education first and maintainance and/or correction of schooling system itself!! These children need to know basic English, math and spelling before scores can move forward. That starts in kindergarden or before, moving, renovation, beautification of schools certainly isn't helping in that area.
Concerned Parent December 13, 2013 at 10:47 AM
Perhaps the town should restructure and add the MBOE under Milford Public Works Dept, their models seem to align to one another.
David Chesler December 13, 2013 at 10:49 AM
Don't confuse raising test scores with improving education.
Chris December 13, 2013 at 10:52 AM
To digress.... I saw an author on TV and he said that the 3 countries where the kids are excelling have little in the way of computer use or large budgets, that their main success was not rote or memorized teaching, (after the basics), but making them think, extrapolate and have opinions. My upbringing was all memorization. Hated it.
Joannie December 13, 2013 at 10:55 AM
Kids don't know what 6 x 6 is anymore unless they have a calculator or how to spell consideration unless they have spell check, MAKE THEM USE THERE BRAINS!!!!!!
Concerned Parent December 13, 2013 at 10:56 AM
Albert Einstein once said: "The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education." I'm beginning to believe he spent part of his academic years in Milford.
CB December 13, 2013 at 11:17 AM
How about just plain NO!
John DeRosa December 13, 2013 at 12:14 PM
Wow.. all of these responses are all over the place. The long and short of it is this - we need to provide a better product for the children in our system today and position our system - once again - as a drawing interest for people that choose to come to Milford because of the education. As an educator, a BOE member, taxpayer - that 50% of my dollar goes to educate children but I have no children to reap the benefit - and as a parent that feels what is being provided to the children today ISN'T good enough.. I will have no problem bringing up the tough issues or questions to the MPS... What we have less of each day,week, month, and year that goes by is the time to change.. Let's get ready for the ride because is may get a little bumpy... either we are going to be HONEST and admit as a system we have got to make some tough changes or the cost of education will get so high it will force our educators out of the system - which would be unfortunate...
Just me December 13, 2013 at 12:25 PM
how about opening the old MHS back up? Close the other schools & have just one like it always was. The offices in the "Parson's Complex" can move elsewhere. The old lockers are still behind the walls & the building is sound & the location is perfect!
Susan Fortin Paiva December 13, 2013 at 12:33 PM
If both high schools merge, half of those high school students who want to participate on sports teams in high school will be out of luck, or sitting on the bench. Just something to keep in mind.
CB December 13, 2013 at 12:37 PM
One school instead of two is being suggested to save money, pure and simple in my mind. A new building won't improve the education the kids get. One building means one principal, one sports program, less teachers, one custodial crew, one heating bill, one AC bill, etc, etc.
Just me December 13, 2013 at 01:22 PM
re: sports. AGAIN...only those that are good enough will be able to participate. That's the way life goes. It's the way it should be. Not giving trophies for participation and it makes them work harder if they REALLY want to be on the teams....earn it!
CB December 13, 2013 at 01:27 PM
Sports isn't for everyone. I was just making a point that it's about economics, not improving the education the kids get.
Susan Fortin Paiva December 13, 2013 at 01:52 PM
Not speaking about giving trophies for participation. Speaking about spots on teams at two high schools versus one high school. Colleges want sports participation.
David Chesler December 13, 2013 at 03:04 PM
There are many advantages to smaller schools, Susan, and you've identified one, a bigger fraction of the student body can letter or start in any given sport. I like that at a smaller school almost every faculty member, and certainly the administrators, can know every student. I suppose there are compensating benefits to larger schools, especially if the savings are used to maintain the same student:teacher ratios. (One that comes to mind is there is more likely to be a critical mass for any given interest group, whether it's an academic elective or extracurricular.) I don't know if it's a wash. For those few students whose ticket to college was going to be starting for the football team, what's better, lettering for a championship team (because the starters are drawn from twice as large a talent pool) or starting for a weak team? Do colleges care that you're a starter, or just that you had enough discipline to maintain your grades while going to practice enough to stay on the team? (The rare kid who is going to get a football scholarship is going to be a starter regardless of the size of the high school class he is competing against for a spot on the team.)
tlkensington December 13, 2013 at 06:43 PM
Who gives a damn about sports! Lets focus on education first. Worry about trivial things like sports later.
Sydney Stephen December 13, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Leave the schools alone one high school is a terrible idea! Let's get back to blaming the parents and kids instead of the teachers and things will be much better. If your not doing your job as a parent messing with the schools will do NOTHING!!!
C.S. December 13, 2013 at 10:26 PM
Fairfield went to a single HS several years ago and wound up spending a bunch of money to upgrade Warde to accept the extra load of kids from Ludlowe only to realize that they had to go back to 2 high schools some years later, so no money was saved, and they had to build a new HS (Ludlowe 2), and once again upgrade Warde. So in the end only the taxpayers lost on that deal. I'm not so sure that Milford may not be heading into that same pitfall.
Lindy Smith December 13, 2013 at 10:43 PM
I qwnr ro high school in the south where they have grades 7-8-9 togerher and 10-11-12 it works very well
Laura December 14, 2013 at 01:30 AM
Oh hey, that's me graduating. How nice. I think we should focus on what we have now and put effort into the students being taught today! Only worrying about tomorrow leaves the kids in the system today out of the loop.
Suzanne Gill Vitaletti December 14, 2013 at 07:12 AM
John DeRosa, "once again" is implying that the previous Milford education structure worked. Which infrastructure? K-8? Then 9-12? Or k-5, 6-8, 9-12? Whichever way, we are not restructuring the district as they once were so how do u know if we will achieve the same "once again"? Also, why are we staying away from k-8? Catholic schools still keep this structure; I'm wondering if we should complete a comparative analysis.
Suzanne Gill Vitaletti December 14, 2013 at 07:18 AM
You know that it's true in the smaller schools faculty and families know each other. In this unsafe work that's literally getting worse, why are we not thinking about safety? Anybody can walk into a school of thousands of kids! It's common knowledge that more attention leads to better results. But this is exactly why we don't go in this direction because then we woul need more teachers and faculty to accommodate and that would mean more money.
John DeRosa December 14, 2013 at 06:18 PM
@Suzanne... I would beg to differ with you. I came from the k-8 system so I can speak from experience of the benefit of having continuity in the grades that benefits not only the children but makes the teachers more effective. I don't advocate a return to the k-8 but do support a k-5, 6-8, 9-12 system.. What I do know for fact is the change that was made a few years ago to add another level of transition adding no value to the education of our children other than create another level of bureaucracy. What we do need is "a change" to make our school system a product that people would want to come here to Milford and raise their families. It's a proven fact that more than a majority of our citizens don't have children in the system and are over the age of 50 so I ask you why don't or aren't the young families wanting to come to Milford to raise their families? That is the precise reason as to why I would advocate a change to the structure and the way we educate our children... I agree the safety of our children need to be addressed and as a system they have begun to do that - but there is still more work to do.. We will need to do an analysis and ask the tough questions to achieve more positive results..
John O'Neil DVM December 14, 2013 at 07:39 PM
Ever since I moved to Milford in 1975 most people asked me when I was going to move to Orange, Woodbridge or Bethany so my sons could attend better schools. Even now two of my associates live in Bethany. Both my sons attended Live Oaks and Foran. Don't spend all this money on buildings, just make the education in MILFORD the place where parents want to move for their children's education. Make it a showcase school system, the envy of every other town. A question to ask, how many of our teachers have their children educated in Milford?? Or do they live elsewhere because Milford isn't good enough.?
tlkensington December 14, 2013 at 08:15 PM
Or maybe Milford is too expensive for some teachers to live. Maybe Milford is too expensive for some young parents to live. Maybe there are not enough jobs for young adults. Many other causes that you are overlooking, John.
Tmc December 14, 2013 at 10:38 PM
I'm sorry, but wasn't there a ton of work just done on Foran? Is that all going to waste with this talk of finding a central 50 acre site?
Jacqueline Kocak Zeidler January 28, 2014 at 04:53 PM
It's just a Connecticut thing alot of people are turning to drugs and robbery to help survive in this state! Lots of people moving out of here!way too expensive! Money is not here!
Concerned Parent January 28, 2014 at 05:24 PM
Simply NO. They are taking a backwards approach to addressing the declining enrollment.

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