Does City Need More Schools?

Melissa Bailey PhotoWith a flood of expected new students, a suggested remedy has popped up: double the size of one elementary school, and build three more.

The idea comes from a panel of teachers, parents, aldermen and administrators tasked with taking a fresh look at K-8 school attendance zones and student enrollment patterns.

The new school projects are among 24 recommendations aired at a public hearing last week.

Click here to read the recommendations.

The panel called for the Citywide School Building Committee, which the mayor chairs, to consider four school construction projects: To build three pre-K-8 schools on the east side of town, in the Hill, and on the campus of Southern Connecticut State University; and to double the size of MicroSociety School.

Ed Linehan, a retired administrator who chairs the redistricting committee, said the proposals came in response to a faster-than-expected boom in enrollment across the district as well as a shortage of seats in certain parts of the city.

The city’s K-8 population grew by 5.4 percent from the 2010-11 to 2011-12 school year, outpacing expectations, according to Linehan. His committee unveiled new projections predicting the total student body would grow by nearly 10 percent in the next nine years, growing to 21,644 students in 2021. The K-8 population would grow by 12.8 percent, according to the committee’s findings.

Meanwhile, Linehan said, certain areas of the city have a serious shortage of classroom seats near where students live. In the east side of town, which includes Fair Haven, Fair Haven Heights, Wooster Square and the East Shore, there are 1,336 more students than there are K-8 seats in neighborhood schools, the committee found. If you add in three schools that aren’t “neighborhood schools,” meaning they don’t have attendance zones—Benjamin Jepson, Christopher Columbus and Conte/West Hills—there’s a shortage of 50 seats.

However, Linehan noted, the eastern side of the city is expected to absorb families from Farnam Courts, as the city razes and rebuilds that 244-unit housing complex.

To respond to the “large and growing capacity gap” in that part of town, the committee suggested the city consider building a new K-8 school somewhere in the eastern part of the city.

Similarly, the panel noted a shortage of 1,162 seats in neighborhood schools in the “south central” quadrant of the city, which includes the Hill and West River neighborhoods. The shortage is 35 seats if you add in Roberto Clemente and Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School, which aren’t neighborhood schools. A new pre-K-8 school would help solve that “capacity gap,” the committee found. The district already aims to build a pre-K-4 school in the area, according to its master school construction plan. The plan calls for a $29 million renovation to turn the former Vincent Mauro School at 130 Orchard St., which currently houses students in grades K to 2 at Strong School, into a full K-4 facility. Linehan’s committee, however, proposes designing the school so it could be reconfigured into a pre-K-8 if needed.

The district’s master plan already calls for building a pre-K-4 school on or near the campus of Southern Connecticut State University. No money or specific plans have been approved. Given its predictions about the booming enrollment in all K-8 grades, the panel suggested the city consider building that school as a pre-K-8, or building it in a way so that it could be converted to serve pre-K-8.

Last, the panel suggested expanding the size of MicroSociety Magnet School at 311 Valley St. The school sits on a rather large footprint, Linehan noted: “there’s enough land there” to double its size, so that it serves two classes of kids in each grade from K to 8. The expansion would accommodate the 192 children expected to move into the reborn Brookside housing complex in West Rock.

The panel stopped short of calling for these specific projects to be built—it technically called on the school board to ask the mayor’s Citywide School Building Committee to “examine the desirability and feasibility” of doing so, noted Chief Operating Officer Will Clark (pictured).

The news came as a shock to one member of the audience, Essie Barros (pictured at the top of this story).

“I’m a little stunned,” Barros said.

Barros, of Newhallville, said most families she knows don’t get into their preferred magnet school. They end up in what she calls “free fall” schools, catch-all schools of lesser quality.

“The magnet schools aren’t benefiting my students in my neighborhood,” she said. “They’re not getting in.”

Magnet schools are being overrun by suburban kids, she argued. The district reserves half of its magnet pre-K spots for suburban students; overall, it aims for a 65 to 35 percent New Haven- suburban balance in order to keep state magnet funding, according to Linehan.

There remains a much higher demand for magnet school seats than there are available seats: In the last lottery, 9,333 students applied for 2,677 open seats at 29 schools, including five charters.

Barros suggested the city should focus on improving its current schools instead of building more.

“I don’t see the value in putting up any more schools,” Barros argued. “We need to be comfortable sending kids where they are now.”

Eliza Halsey (pictured), a Howard Avenue mom who sent her daughter to Strong School after striking out in the magnet lottery this year, urged the district to build Strong School into a stand-alone school with a strong theme, instead of continuing to treat is as an “overflow” for kids who don’t fit in their top choices.

COO Clark said the city’s master plan (read it here) intends to do just that: Expand Strong from a K-2 into a proper K-4. He said the city’s school construction plans will continue to be discussed in public at the Citywide School Building Committee. The lesser-known committee, whose agendas cannot be found online on either the city or schools websites, meets in City Hall on the second Thursday of every month.

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posted by: Noteworthy on October 2, 2012  10:41am

Everybody knows where I stand. Building more $50 million schools, 100% bond financed is wrecking the state and local budget and has lead to dramatically higher debt payments each year. The mayor refuses to cut any spending, curtail any program no matter how inefficient and without merit to offset the increase in debt payments. Last year the city ran a deficit and each of the previous 5 years, the budget was only balanced with last minute infusions from 360 State, YNH, Yale and the state.

The default position of this group and the BOE is always to build more schools. More. More. More. I’m not surprised with this latest development, the rationale or the deaf ear that is sure to be up next.

Nearly every new school built in the last 10 years has been dramatically larger than its previous footprint. That’s because the BOE has built soaring atriums, swimming pools and single use 3 story gyms like Davis Street which when all is said and done, accomodates no more children than what used to be in a building a third of the size. Would we be talking about building more schools if in these much larger buildings, we had built more classrooms for the children we have and the children the BOE imports from the suburbs?

In the legislative session this year, the BOE asked the state to take over maintenance of its new schools because it didn’t have the money to do so. And now there is a plan to build more of what we can’t maintain? Somebody needs to take a refresher course in Math 101 and maybe a self help course on setting goals and priorities.

posted by: JohnTulin on October 2, 2012  10:54am

Noteworthy, you are correct - just to pick Cross as an example:  the pool is NEVER used, the atrium is a complete waste of space, and the renovations caused the school to LOSE classrooms (which of course is why BOE ‘needs’ more schools!!).  Not to mention that the classes, because of rampant absenteeism and dropout rates, are not as nearly as full as they are described.  An average class that has 20-25 students on the books, really only has 10-15 showing up by mid year.

posted by: MamaBear on October 2, 2012  11:36am

Mauro-Sheridan is a great school, but the upper grades have 3 homerooms while the pre-k has 1 class each of 3 and 4 year olds, and 2 classes per grade for each of the elementary grades. While this school is being used as an example, each pre-k thru 8 school should attempt to have continuity with 3 classes per grade all the way from entry thru graduation. This would allow neighborhood children as well as siblings to attend school together, creating a model for better parent involvement. If redistricting is needed, it should be done gradually with a focus on mixing the schools racially as well as economically.

posted by: Curious on October 2, 2012  12:04pm

This is insane.  Of course if you ask teachers, administrators, and parents what they need they will say they need more schools.  Why not set up a task force on crime that’s composed of cops and residents…to tell you the answer is more overtime and more cops.

posted by: anonymous on October 2, 2012  2:11pm

Immigration is down, and apartments are opening up. The city probably wants to raze Farnam Courts, since it is an incredibly unhealthy place to live, but it does not necessarily need to rebuild it.

It would be cheaper to give the families vouchers for nice apartments where they want to live - on the East Side, or someplace elsethat they might choose like Branford or North Haven.

New Haven has far more of its share of subsidized housing. More should be built in towns like Orange, Milford, and Branford.

posted by: Brutus2011 on October 2, 2012  2:20pm

I just waded through the proposals, etc. linked through this informative article.

The only proposal that makes sense to me, initially anyway, is the preK-4 school built near and in conjunction with SCSU (presumably will be a cutting edge learning and teaching facility).

As a graduate of SCSU, I have often thought that a n actual public school under the auspices of our ed department would make a lot of sense. I could go on and on speculating the positive impact this could have on our community and our state.

I would though like to add my two cents.

Why not look into what it would take to have neighborhood schools with an eye on using community and neighborhood residents working with the kids? Think about it for a minute. What is the number 1 problem with our schools?

A lack of a proper learning environment leading to too great a loss of instructional time and a deadly lack of focus on the part of too many of our students.

If Grandma or Grandpa or Aunty or Uncle or Mommy were directly involved in our schools, I believe many behavioral problems will disappear. Gateway CC has paraprofessional training available and NHPS could use grant money to fund a training program for city residents.

Look, its our city, our kids, our collective future.

Lets cut the cow-pucky (meaning all the harrumphing by all these self-important managers) and make a way for a better life for our children and our community.

posted by: SaveOurCity on October 2, 2012  5:11pm

giving Johnny D a recommendation to build more schools is like providing needles to a heroin addict.  Come on….we’re already so far underwater that we’re borrowing in order to meet operating costs (recent lawsuit bills) and our overall occupancy is still only in the 80% range. 
Why on earth (other than to get more election $$ from contractors) would we consider building more schools?  Stop the Madness!

posted by: AMDC on October 2, 2012  5:50pm

No more schools. no more graft. No more corruption. no more boondoggles of building to benefit political donors. ENOUGH!!!  You are killing New Haven. There is not much time left to stop this madness.  No sane person would agree to spending money we DO NO have. ENOUGH!!

Vote out all incumbents in the next election. EVERYONE MUST GO!!! NO MATTER WHO TAKES THEIR PLACE?

posted by: Syne on October 3, 2012  8:44pm

Perhaps the city can look into using the empty Saint Brendan’s School on Ellsworth Avenue.