MERIDEN — The Meriden Board of Education formed a committee earlier this month to review increased enrollment projections at the city’s two middle schools, and possible changes to its magnet middle school.
“The buildings aren’t big enough to meet the enrollments, and offer the kind of curriculum we want to offer in 2020,” said board President Robert Kosienski Jr.
Meriden school officials expect total enrollment between the city’s three middle schools — Washington, Lincoln, and Edison magnet school — to reach the highest it’s been in 10 years, jumping from 2,182 students this year to a projected enrollment next year of 2,247.
“Class size, facility limitations, curriculum and overall middle school enrollment will be the immediate topics of discussion,” Kosienski said. “I’m sure, as the committee sets its agenda, we will need to look at Thomas Edison, and the agreement given that almost 580 Meriden students attend the school.”
The city owns the 20-year-old school and hires ACES — Area Cooperative Educational Services — to staff and operate the school.
That agreement ends in 2020, as does the city’s deal with the state to run the school as a magnet school with students attending from partner districts.
“We want to know what’s the plan in the long term, five to 10 years,” said Assistant School Superintendent Michael Grove.‘Great experiment’
Edison Middle School, with a concentration in science, technology, engineering and math, was initially built to serve partner districts Middletown, Madison and Region 13, Middlefield and Durham. State and local officials agreed to the 22-acre-site on North Broad Street. After delays and cost overruns, the school was built for $40 million paid by the state.
Landing the first magnet school in the city was pushed by then Democratic state Sen. Thomas Gaffey, co-chair of the General Assembly’s Education Committee, who secured the funding and helped get state approvals for the project.
The state-of-the art school was seen as a gift to the city.
At a groundbreaking in 1998, politicians and school leaders touted the buzz words of the magnet school philosophy. Delegates from Madison, Durham, Middlefield and Middletown joined them.
RJ file photo - School children wield shovels with officials at ground-breaking ceremonies for the state's first magnet middle school in Meriden Oct. 22, 1998.
“Our five towns embark on the great experiment, an experiment that holds great promise not only for our communities, but for our entire state,” then Mayor Joseph J. Marinan Jr. said.
They spoke of desegregation, integration, test scores and breaking town boundaries. Mostly Meriden
After getting lackluster enrollment from Madison and Region 13, the state later passed legislation that allowed Edison to accept applications for students from any town through the Magnet School Parent Choice program. The parents would provide transportation and receive a modest stipend.
Today, Meriden makes up the bulk of the school’s 699 students, with 512 students. Middletown follows with 80 students, and Waterbury has steadily increased its enrollment in the past three years, to 79 students. Wallingford enrolls 12 students, and Berlin, New Britain, Cromwell, North Haven, Wethersfield, Middlefield, Portland, Torrington and Watertown have less than five each.
“The original agreement with Middletown, Madison, Region 13 and Meriden has been a wonderful opportunity for many students over the past two decades,” Kosienski said. “When it opened, it was state of the art. The ad hoc committee will no doubt look at the agreement, Meriden’s ownership of the building, its curriculum.”
It costs $13,723 per pupil at Edison, with the state paying $8,810 and the towns making up the remaining $4,913. The city does routine maintenance on the building and is reimbursed by ACES. Rent is $1 per year.
A line item in the Board of Education’s five-year capital improvement plan includes $1.8 million for a new roof at the school in 2024.
According to Grove, the city would need to pay to replace the roof regardless of the status of its contract with ACES. As of now, the city has no data indicating the city is losing money with the magnet school agreement, he said.
Meriden has three votes on the steering committee that sets Edison’s annual operating budgets, with Middletown getting two votes, and ACES one.
“Meriden has been in the driver’s seat definitely on budget issues,” said ACES Executive Director Thomas Danehy.Uncertain future
Danehy has not spoken with city officials about the contract to manage the school, except to provide town-by-town enrollment numbers. But Danehy was made aware from media reports that a middle school study committee had been formed.
“We’ve been a good partner for 20 years,” Danehy said. “The way it is now, Meriden has the upper hand. Meriden is one of our customers. I would like to continue the partnership.”
Danehy is pleased with the science and math curriculum that gives regional students an opportunity they might not get elsewhere. Edison students work together in teams on engineering projects and compete at state levels.
“The output for the children who graduate from Edison is good and for the community and for allowing parents to have choice,” Danehy said. “It’s doing well for Meriden and other communities, too. I would enroll my children there.”
The ad hoc committee will review the Edison curriculum and student performance.
Kosienski has stated in meetings that the public school’s STEM curriculum is “by far” better than Edison’s.
“I really believe what we’re doing in-district is by far, way ahead of what they’re doing,” Kosienski said last winter.