Groton Board of Education to vote on closing another school

Groton — The Board of Education has been looking at closing another elementary school as part of the Groton 2020 plan and is anticipated to vote later this month to close Mary Morrisson Elementary School, effective in the fall of 2021, Superintendent Michael Graner said.

The Groton 2020 plan calls for building two new elementary schools to open in fall of 2021, and closing S.B. Butler and Claude Chester elementary schools, two of the district's oldest, most costly to maintain schools, Graner said. The town also is constructing a new consolidated middle school, expected to be completed in June 2020.

As school officials looked at elementary enrollment projections for when S.B. Butler and Claude Chester schools close and the two new, larger schools come online, they realized they could close an additional elementary school as part of the plan, Graner said.

While elementary enrollment is maintaining itself, the two new schools are larger than the ones slated to close. The two new schools require approximately 600 students to be enrolled at each for the town to receive its full share of state reimbursement for the project, Graner said.

"The board realized we could actually close another school and operate the district even more cost efficiently," Graner said. Graner estimates the closure of another school would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars in "cost avoidance," as the district would not have to pay for a principal, secretary and support staff at the shuttered school.

In its review, the board looked at both the condition of Mary Morrisson, built in 1964, and Charles Barnum Elementary School, built in 1965, and decided that Charles Barnum would be the better school to keep open, since Mary Morrisson has greater facility needs, including the condition of the building, a playground that regularly floods and a parking area that lacks a good traffic pattern, he said.

Graner made the proposal, and the board asked for information, including about enrollment, facility conditions and space for early childhood programs. He said the board is satisfied that the two new elementary schools will have enough early childhood classroom space.

The board is anticipated to take the vote on Mary Morrisson on June 24, he said.

If the board approves the closure, the school district would go from six elementary schools down to five elementary schools in the fall of '21, he said. Those five schools would be the two new elementary schools, Charles Barnum, Northeast Academy Arts Magnet School and Catherine Kolnaski STEAM Magnet School.

The June 24 decision will start a series of other decisions, including the board's development of magnet themes for the two new elementary schools and potentially Charles Barnum, he said.

Graner said he would recommend that Charles Barnum become the fifth elementary magnet school in the district for the fall of '21. If the board moves forward with that recommendation, it then would develop a theme for that school.

Under the Groton 2020 plan, the new elementary school to be built at the site of Cutler Arts & Humanities Middle School is a diversity school mandated to have racial balance, while the new elementary school to be constructed at the site of West Side STEM Magnet Middle School also is expected to be appropriately balanced, Graner said. Each school would have an identified neighborhood area from where students would attend by default, as well as open slots for students outside of that area to apply to enter into a lottery to attend that school.

School officials plan in the early fall to start working with a demographer on studying demographics, establishing neighborhood catchment areas and looking at potential magnet themes, Graner said.

k.drelich@theday.com

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