Several Norwich schools are on the chopping block as the city looks to save $5 million from their school district’s budget.
“Our ultimate goal is to have more money available for teaching in the classroom,” said Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom (R).
In another sign of tight times, the Norwich Public School District expects to close several of its facilities.
On the chopping block in the draft proposal are Mahan Elementary, the city’s two pre-k buildings and Veterans Elementary. Although there’s also talk of keeping Veterans open and expanding it.
“It’d be horrible for the community,” said Quinelle Higgins.
Higgins said her special needs son started school the last time the district closed two of its buildings. One of her three children attend Veterans Elementary.
“Imagine kindergarten, one teacher, 30 kindergartners, that’s hard for any child to learn, whether they have a disability or not,” Higgins said.
She doesn’t want to see that happen again.
“Classroom size in itself isn’t going to dictate these changes. It is not. It’s a component that’s important. It will be considered through all of it but there’s a lot of issues we have to look at,” said Nystrom.
The Mayor, who sits on the committee of parents, city council, and school board members that have spent the last year studying the issue said consolidating students into larger buildings is a necessity. The district’s central office and alternative high school would also be moved under this proposal as the buildings they’re housed in closed.
“We’re spending $7.5-$8 million on transportation alone moving kids across the city,” Nystrom explained.
The committee has also proposed building a brand new school in a more centralized location, which has Higgins scratching her head.
“That doesn’t make any sense to me. If there’s nothing majorly wrong with the ones we have why would we tear them down to build one larger one,” Higgins questioned.
Nystrom, a former teacher and state lawmaker, said the state is partially to blame.
“The biggest problem we face right now is they make a program, they say this is the funding level to expect and then they don’t keep their word. The money never shows up. But, they pass mandates telling us how to spend the money they didn’t give us,” said Nystrom.
“With all the taxes you pay in Connecticut, let alone Norwich, which has absolutely nothing for our community or our kids, I’m pretty sure they can afford it,” said Higgins.
Nystrom said it’s too soon to tell whether the plan, which is still in the draft phase, will lead to teacher layoffs.
The plan will have to be approved by the city council, the state, and voters, which means it could be three to four years before the schools close. The committee will meet again in two weeks.