What the Superintendent Has To Say About the Orange Elementary School Situation

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Feb 172014

BOE Chairman Bill Kraut and Supt. Lynn McMullin at a recent BOE meeting.

BOE Chairman Bill Kraut and Supt. Lynn McMullin at a recent BOE meeting.

Following is an update of the Orange Elementary Schools from Supt. Lynn McMullin Posted on the OESS Website.

There are several issues, each of which has a strong rumor base, attracting attention in our district right
now. They are: 1. the progress of the remediation of Peck Place and its relationship to a ‘contingency
plan’; 2. the 2014 – 2015 budget and its related issues such as class sizes and the capital improvements
needed at the schools; and 3. as yet unresolved key issues, such as extending the day for kindergarten
and our current calendar.

With so many people offering suggestions, ideas and opinions, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of the
facts. This communication is intended to update you as to the status of each of these, knowing that next
week could bring changes. In addition, I wrote the DRAFT of a contingency plan, as I was directed to do,
and I was able to share that with the Board of Education yesterday. Some in the community have seen
it, so I am sharing now sharing the draft with all. Find it also attached to the news update.

Here’s an update on the many items which are on your mind and in my inbox, easiest items first:
1. Our snow day on Friday, February 14th brought us to the last day of school being Friday, June
20th. The next snow day will come off of April vacation, as was decided In March 2013 with the
passing of the district calendar. There will not be changes made in that district calendar because
our staff and families trust it and rely on it to make plans and reservations. However, we do
have 181 days in our student calendar; state law requires only 180.

2. My proposal for an extended-day kindergarten pilot was tabled until the next BOE meeting on
March 10th at 7:30. This proposal was presented in February, so it is posted on the BOE section
of the webpage in the ‘Minutes’ tab. The proposal is thorough, and no additional information
needs to be added here. There was much discussion, but no decision about the proposal as a
motion was made to table and passed 6-4.

3. There are three important meetings this week. The two BOE meetings (a. and c. below) are
‘meetings in public’ not ‘public meetings’ which means people are more than free to attend, but
do not participate in the conversation.

a. The BOE Buildings and Grounds Sub-Committee is meeting Tuesday night, February 18,
at 5:00 p.m. upstairs in the Board room. The agenda in posted on the district’s webpage
in the Board section under the ‘Agendas’ tab. The only agenda item is updates regarding
Peck; the BOE will be planning for the upcoming meeting with the BOS on Wednesday.

b. A meeting with the Board of Selectmen, Wednesday, February 19, at 5:00 at Town Hall.

c. A ‘Marathon Budget’ meeting from 5:00 – 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 20th
in which  the BOE will meet individually with each department or principal, in ½ hour intervals,
beginning with Technology and ending with Central Office. I will post the schedule for  the budget meeting in the ‘Agendas’ on Tuesday. I will try to address the remaining, more complex issues, which are becoming interwoven, in a clear and  understandable way.

1. My goal and the goal of the Board of Education has always been and continues to be the
remediation of Peck Place School. I used the words “clean and pristine” to describe this goal,
and those words have been widely quoted. That remediation goal ends with our staff and
students returning to a much improved, cleaner, and healthier Peck in late August. That goal
includes a plan for floors, ceilings, insulation, and heat/air univents for the classrooms. In
addition, we would be prudent to go out to bid and put the new roof on before the interior work
is complete.

2. It is true that work at Peck has currently been halted. After last week’s Board of Selectmen’s
meeting, we had approval only for Phase I of the clean-up. The BOS has requested more specific
information from us and would like to hear from the experts with whom we are working before
discussing Phase II and III. We are preparing for that meeting, which will take place on
Wednesday, February 19th, at 5:00 p.m. at Town Hall. The Board of Education does not have
money of its own. We have the money allotted to us through the budget last May. It would be
gravely irresponsible to have continued to work on Peck with no means of paying for the work,
so the work was halted on Thursday, February 13.

3. Incidentally, the Phase I remediation did achieve a clean air sample at the end of the abatement.

4. Through several different venues last week, the Board of Education was requested to develop a
‘contingency plan’ should the Town decide not to go forward with the remediation of Peck.
People quickly began circulating ideas of tearing Peck down and building one new school for all.
Additional ideas gained a foothold. The idea of a new, town-wide school is not a surprise to
anyone. People have interjected ‘the new school’ idea frequently in conversation. But,
suspending the work on Peck in order to build a new school sometime down the road is a
shocking surprise. A new school would take 5 – 6 years of town meetings, committee work,
design work, and ultimately construction.

5. Even more surprising is the idea that, rather than repairing the damage at Peck and returning to
the school, Peck students and staff could be housed somewhere else for 5 – 6 years while the
new school is being built.

6. Incidentally, the price tags in the millions which compare the price of repairing Peck to the cost
of constructing a new school are speculation, not factual.

7. Oddly, (since most families have actually had a child at MLT recently), the idea of housing Peck
Place at MLT gained a lot of ground.

a. Peck has 22 regular education classrooms in Grades 1 – 6. In addition, to support an
effective program, Peck has a library, computer lab, several Special Education rooms, an
art room, a music room, and additional spaces for OT/PT, Speech, Guidance, and
tutoring. There are 372 Peck students.

b. MLT has 12 classrooms: 7 Kindergarten classrooms; 1 Special Education classroom, and 2 Pre-K classrooms. There is an art room and one classroom being used as the Library/Reading/Tutoring room.

c. Using MLT to house Peck suggests we move the entire kindergarten and pre-school program of 9 classrooms (including the Peck kindergarteners) to Race Brook (5  classrooms) and Turkey Hill (4 classrooms). It’s hard to see where those extra classroom spaces exist at Turkey Hill and Race Brook without eliminating their classroom spaces for art, music, Spanish, tutoring, and the computer labs.

d. If we did move Kindergarten and pre-K out of MLT, we would now have 12 classrooms
available for the 22 regular education classrooms. If we partitioned the upstairs BOE
meeting room into 2 classrooms, we’re up to 14. My office (I’m being serious, not
sarcastic) is nearly classroom-sized and would get us to 15. MLT would still be 7 regular
classrooms short and that does not include the children’s needs for a library, computer
room, or Special Ed.

e. Many people have mentioned bringing in portables to MLT, as if it were as easy as a
phone call. Portables are expensive and need to be ordered about a year in advance.
They are expensive to install and need a poured concrete foundation, septic, electric,
and water. They are expensive to remove, as well. If they are ‘well-used’ at the end of
their stint, no one wants them back. Lining the field at MLT with portables is extremely
hard to envision and impossible to support.

8. So, charged with the responsibility of developing a contingency plan, I did that in the most
educationally sound, sensible way possible. I don’t have a full appreciation of the intention or
purpose of this contingency plan. Is the plan supposed to house Peck until a new school is built
in 5 – 6 years? Or, is the plan supposed to house Peck if we don’t make the August move-in
date? If it is the latter, this is frustrating; remediating Peck in time for opening IS achievable and
should be everyone’s primary goal. The contingency plan does include grade reconfiguration
rather than redistricting (please see the need to move one full grade in c. below) for these

a. The make-shift arrangement we used in January, with the Peck students divided in half,
was a stop-gap measure and never intended to be anything other than temporary. We
could not replicate that plan without overcrowding the classrooms again. We certainly
couldn’t repeat it for years.

b. Many other options have been considered (phone calls, visits, etc.) and ruled out. I’ll
provide at least one brief negative for each, but please know there are many negatives.

i. Renting empty retail space (negatives: bus drop-offs and pick-ups; need for extensive dividers, wall covering, and lighting for industrial-looking space; Internet meeting occupancy codes for children; playground)

ii. Empty schools in Milford, New Haven West Haven, including parochial (negatives: some have been repurposed by the town; some have been stripped;  some were not up to code; need for renovation)

iii. High Plains (4 available classrooms, occupancy, condition)

iv. Hubble (drop-offs and pick-ups; narrow entrance road, basement spaces, need of renovation; occupancy for children)

c. Thus, we needed a plan that incorporated our existing buildings. To do this, the plan required moving one whole grade into MLT to lighten the student load on Turkey Hill and Race Brook. We also needed a plan for the remaining grades that yielded a number of student sections that actually ‘fit’ into the real number of classrooms we have available to us in Turkey Hill and Race Brook

9. The class size discussion is a moot point IF Peck is not remediated and brought back into the
mix. If Peck is to be closed, and if four schools are to be housed in three schools, this town
simply does not have the number of classrooms it needs even to simply maintain the programs
and class sizes that currently exist.

10. The extended-day Kindergarten pilot is a moot point if the kindergarten and pre-K are to be
reshuffled, or if Grade 1 is to be moved to MLT.

Finally, regarding the Budget Workshop, the Board of Education and I are proceeding with a 2014 –
2015 budget as if Peck were to be remediated and online for the opening of school

Hope this helps you to sort out the information as it stands today.

Lynn K. McMullin
Superintendent of Schools