MERIDEN — The Board of Education is ending its partnership with Wintergreen Magnet School after the school year, meaning the district will no longer pay for transportation or tuition for students who attend the Hamden school.
The board’s unanimous vote Tuesday came as Area Cooperative Educational Services, the regional education group that runs Wintergreen, continues to search for a new location for the magnet school after Hamden’s Board of Education voted last May to take back the building after its lease with ACES expires this June.
“It really came down to Hamden Public Schools voted to take back the building, so we’re not sure where Wintergreen will be next year,” said Mike Grove, Meriden’s assistant superintendent of operations.
Meriden currently sends 54 students to Wintergreen, however, 12 of those students are in eighth grade and wouldn’t return next year anyway, Grove said. The school serves children from kindergarten through eighth grade.
Families of the 42 other students will still have the choice to send their students to Wintergreen next year, Grove said, and Meriden will pay the tuition costs, but will not arrange or fund transportation.
School Superintendent Mark Benigni said the decision to end the partnership with Wintergreen largely came down to money and the fact that the education Wintergreen offers has changed over the years.
“This is, number one, budget-driven and, number two, the program that parents originally signed up for has changed because of the lack of funding for the magnet school construct,” he said during a recent school board Finance Committee meeting. “This used to be an extended school year, extended hours program and all those things have been scaled back.”
This school year, Benigni said the school district “stopped building new relationships between families and Wintergreen” because “we didn’t want to form partnerships that were only going to last a year.”
Benigni on Friday sent a letter to Wintergreen families announcing the decision and inviting them to attend an informational session on Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Board of Education’s building.
“We want to make the transition to Meriden Public Schools as smooth as possible, and we also want them to know what all their options are,” Benigni said. “...We understand that this is a hard time for them, and especially the students, and we’re going to be as supportive as we can.”
Evelyn Rossetti-Ryan, head of marketing and outreach for ACES, said ACES respects the Meriden school board’s decision and that the cooperative is “committed to providing parents and students with quality, educational options.”
Although ACES attempted to negotiate with Hamden to purchase its current building, those negotiations were unsuccessful. ACES is now eyeing Gateway Community College’s North Haven Campus for relocation, Rossetti-Ryan said.
“After several months of negotiations, Hamden and ACES were unable to come to an agreement with the sale of the Wintergreen property,” Rossetti-Ryan said. “We are considering other options, the strongest one being the former Gateway Community College location in North Haven. The move to the Gateway site is looking very promising. We’ll have an update on this very soon.”
Meriden expects to see significant savings from the decision — even if 20 of the 42 current Meriden students continue attending Wintergreen next year, Grove said the district would save $429,283. The district would pay just under $5,000 for each student for tuition, with the state covering the remaining $12,858.
Grove and Benigni said the district is prepared to readmit Wintergreen students back into Meriden schools, noting the 42 students are spread out over several grade levels. Grove doesn’t anticipate the need for additional staff, but costs would be covered by the savings.
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