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    Monday, December 11, 2023

    Norwich will close Bishop preschool program in budget cut

    Norwich ― Faced with the need to cut $2.2 million from its 2023-24 school budget, the Board of Education agreed Tuesday to close the Bishop Early Learning Center, cutting the preschool program by about two-thirds and with only half-day classes.

    The move is just the first action taken by the board to reduce the school budget from the requested $91.6 million to the $89.47 million the City Council approved Monday night. School Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow and Business Administrator Robert Sirpenski reviewed three options they called drastic moves to meet the mandated budget total.

    School administrators rejected ideas of closing an elementary school or reducing kindergarten to half-day as impractical, too disruptive, and not cost-effective. Sirpenski said cuts in capital expenses and not filling some vacant maintenance positions can save about $335,000. But those moves would not fill the budget gap.

    Closing Bishop School and moving what remains of preschool into other elementary schools would save an estimated $2 million but would cost at least part of a $1.3 million school readiness grant from the state, which helps fund not only Norwich Public Schools preschool but some private and nonprofit agencies.

    The Bishop building, which dates to the 1920s, is ill-suited for preschool, with stairs and an unreliable elevator. But the school system possibly could save additional money by moving adult education or central office and support staff into Bishop, closing two other aging school buildings.

    But exact savings and costs of closing Bishop will not be calculated for about two weeks. Staff will be allowed to fill vacant positions in the elementary schools, but there could be some layoffs, school officials said. The district also needs to learn how much of the state grant would be lost and the cost or savings of moving other programs into the building.

    The Board of Education scheduled a special meeting for 6 p.m. July 5 to hear more details about the budget savings and other administrative proposals to reach the $89.47 million total.

    Norwich Free Academy will contribute to the savings. Norwich Public Schools and NFA leaders reached a one-year agreement that increases the per pupil host town tuition discount for Norwich regular education students by $100 for the 2023-24 school year. With about 1,200 Norwich regular education students, the discounts will save $120,000 next school year.

    While final budget cuts will be revealed at the July 5 meeting, Superintendent Stringfellow said school leaders must inform parents immediately if the Bishop preschool program will be closed.

    Currently, the program has 253 students aged 3 and 4. Thus far, 79 special education preschool students have enrolled for next year.

    State law requires municipal districts to provide preschool for special-needs students ages 3 and 4 and to enroll a limited number of regular education preschool students in the program as a mainstreaming class. Stringfellow said the so-called “community slots” could be chosen in a lottery. She estimated the reduced program will serve a total of 89 students.


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