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.
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.
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.