MERIDEN — An ad hoc committee of the Board of Education has asked school officials for financial and enrollment information to help ease overcrowding in city middle schools.
The committee members also asked for an accounting of expenses regarding the current operation of Edison Middle School, a magnet school owned by the city which enrolls 512 Meriden students and students from outside towns. It is equipped for 800 students. The city’s contract with the school’s operator, Area Cooperative Educational Services, expires on June 30.
“This is going to be a financial decision and one that we can’t make lightly,” Superintendent Mark Benigni told committee members. ”We want to do what is best for Meriden students.”
According to school officials, Washington Middle School is projected to peak next year at 121 percent enrollment, while LIncoln Middle School has hit its highest enrollment at 115 percent. A bubble in middle school enrollment is expected to add about 130 students over the next two years before leveling off.
“But we’re still going to be over that 100 percent utilization,” said Assistant Superintendent Michael Grove. “Any programming expansion or changes could change functional capacity.”
A study by consulting engineers MIlone and McBroom found that Washington Middle School was an older school on a tighter site, with significant congestion within the buildings, no available classrooms, and has significant site issues regarding parking bus loop functionality, and walkers.
Washington Middle School Principal Dan Corsetti said the school has been shuffling teachers and sharing classrooms for some time. It can implement 90-minute block scheduling on a rotating basis to allow for additional instructional time and sharing space.
Lincoln Middle School is a newer building on a larger site, contains more mid-sized classrooms for non-traditional classrooms/programs but has limited classroom availability and is near capacity in the cafeteria during lunch waves. It can hold 750 students, the report stated.
Benigni said although the engineers say Washington can support 1,000 students, “anyone who has walked the halls of Washington Middle School would know it would be chaos to have 1,000 students.”
School officials also discussed the contract with ACES to operate Edison Middle School, a $40 million school built in 2001. Committee members asked school officials to gather financial information about the administrative, maintenance, technical support, fees, lease agreement and other associated costs. Special education costs are significant as Edison bills the district for high needs students.
“You’re talking about thousands and thousands of dollars of differential,” Benigni said. Edison “has changed over time, voting rights on the budget have changed over time. We do have this bubble at our middle schools.”
In addition to Meriden, Edison accepts students from Middletown, Waterbury, Wallingford and other towns. Meriden school board President Robert Kosienski said it would be important to reach out to partners and participating districts for their long and short term plans, particularly if they are building any new facillities.
“What are we paying for maintenance, tech support? We are the largest client in the lease and what are the other associated costs?” Kosienski asked. “It can still be a Meriden public school and not be much different than what is going on now. There is a $40 million expense to build a new middle school, and guess what folks, Meriden isn’t going to pay for that right now.”
School officials are also in discussion with their lawyers and state lawmakers about the possibility of keeping Edison a magnet school but giving Meriden Public Schools operational control.
According to the district’s agreement with ACES, partners have to give the school one year notice if they want to end participation.
ACES officials held a meeting with Edison parents to talk about Meriden’s enrollment study earlier this month and said they would welcome a contract renewal without interruption. They asked to be kept apprised of the situation to keep parents, particularly those with new students, updated.
The Middle School Study Committee did not set a date for its next meeting.