MERIDEN — Local school administrators said Tuesday they can operate Thomas Edison Magnet Middle School at no cost to participating districts, instead of the $5,643 per pupil now charged by Area Cooperative Educational Services or ACES.
The Meriden Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to send letters to state Department of Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona and legislators notifying them that the district is exploring the financial viability of operating Edison for school year 2021-2022. The move extends the district’s operating contract with ACES for only one year.
The district, which owns Edison Middle School, has until June 30 to renew its five-year contract with ACES. Earlier in the day, the board’s ad hoc middle school study committee voted to recommend sending letters notifying ACES and participating districts of the possibility of Meriden Public Schools operating Edison in 2021-2022.
“The board should take formal action and let the partners know we reserve the right to discontinue the partnership agreement.” said School Superintendent Mark Benigni. “There could be another outcome but this could protect the district. We want to be able to offer the most attractive school we can for our students.”
To operate Edison as a magnet school, Meriden Public Schools would require a change in state statute awarding the same level of funding that ACES now receives. ACES has been operating the 800-student science, technology, engineering and math magnet school since it was built 20 years ago under four five-year contract renewals.
Benigni told board members the steps were necessary after receiving legal counsel and information from the state Department of Education and the General Assembly.
Meriden Public Schools began researching its options in December soon after discovering a middle school enrollment bubble at both Lincoln and Washington middle schools. Meriden currently sends 520 students to Edison. Other participating districts send 187 students and include Middletown, Waterbury, Region 13, Wallingford, Cromwell, Berlin, New Britain, North Haven, Wethersfield, Portland, Torrington and Watertown. Meriden is allowed to send 80 percent of the total student body of 800 students.
Educators told committee members Tuesday the district could absorb $609,103 in operating costs and $575,275 in technology support costs that ACES now includes in its operating budget.
Edison tuition is currently $5,643 per pupil with the state reimbursing $8,180. MPS officials say if it operates the school, a partnering district such as Middletown would save $451,440 to send 80 students. Wallingford would save $67,716 to send its 12 Edison students. Meriden would not see any savings as the per pupil cost and state reimbursement would remain the same. But it could better control costs and tuition increases like a $300,000 spike for Meriden this year, educators said.
The no-cost tuition could attract more participation from other cities and towns, Benigni said.
ACES representatives could not be reached for comment Tuesday but have said in the past they had hoped to continue their partnership with Meriden Public Schools. The cooperative also informed parents in January there could be some changes, and although the magnet school will continue it might not be at the Meriden location.
Edison is also in need of a $2 million roof repair that also needs to be considered when negotiating a possible end to the partnership, Benigni said. The school cost $48 million to build in 2000.
“We do have a space need between Lincoln and Washington,” said Board President Robert Kosienski Jr. “None of us are wiling to go to the city and ask for $75 million for a new middle school. There is no reason Meriden cannot use that facility.”