MERIDEN — The school board’s ad hoc committee on future enrollment in city middle schools is scrutinizing costs associated with sending students to Thomas Edison Magnet Middle School.
Meriden Public Schools pays $5,543 per student to send students to Edison, compared to per pupil costs of $13,723 in Meriden, $17,992 in Wallingford and $19,646 in Region 13. Meriden owns the $42 million building but pays Area Cooperative Educational Services or ACES to operate the magnet school.
“I wished we (actually) paid $13,723 per student,” School Superintendent Mark Benigni said about the city’s cost to educate its students. The true cost, when subtracting out facility maintenance and other factors, puts the per-pupil instructional number lower, he said.
“With that said, the decision facing the BOE to take back Edison is solely about facility needs and finances,” Benigni said. “ACES' Edison budget includes over $1.1 million for administrative and technology support. This cost is not reflective of a typical public school.”
The committee will recommend whether Meriden Public Schools will renew its contract with ACES when it expires June 30.
The city has two other middle schools operated by the Meriden Board of Education.
The committee is also reviewing special education and transportation costs.
The magnet middle school enrolls 512 students from Meriden, about 80 from Middletown, 12 from Wallingford, 80 from Waterbury, one from Berlin and one from Middlefield. Because Meriden sends the most students and the school is within the city, it has more votes on Edison’s steering committee. The committee has input on the budget, curriculum and other operational decisions.
Thomas Edison is also seeking a 3 percent tuition increase this year.
ACES representatives did not comment on Benigni’s statement about Edison’s technical support and administrative costs.
An ACES spokeswoman said administrators were still finalizing the upcoming budget, but they hope to have an agreement with Meriden Public Schools in place before its five-year contract expires in June.
The middle school study committee is also researching partner towns for any future plans. In Middletown, a new 900-student middle school is set to open for the 2021-22 school year.
“We will have to wait and see,” said Marco Gaylord, chief of school operations in Middletown. “We don’t know what parents and students will decide. We assume our students are going to want to attend this beautiful school we’re building students.”
Edison was designated a magnet school through state statute when it was built in the late 1990s, with the state paying the full construction cost and Meriden owning the building. A 1996 Supreme Court decision in the Sheff vs. O’Neil case led to the establishment of 40-plus themed magnet schools designed to reduce racial isolation, and the creation of a lottery that is tailored to enroll no more than 75% black and Hispanic students in a school.
Edison representatives told parents last month, the school — with its emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math — is a viable option for students in urban and suburban school districts.
“It’s all about parent choice,” Edison Principal Karen Habegger said.
Thomas Edison was recently named a magnet school of distinction by the National Association of Magnet Schools.
State Rep. Catherine Abercrombie, D-Meriden, is one of several lawmakers invited to attend a celebration scheduled at Edison on Feb. 28. State Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, and U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes are also expected to attend.
Meriden Public Schools will decide the future of Thomas Edison, Abercrombie said. .
“I’m sure they are doing an analysis to see if the numbers work fiscally,” she said.