State Close to Deal Between Winchester and Gilbert School

Parents at the Gilbert School in Winchester have been looking for answers for months regarding where students slated to go there may end up in the fall or shortly thereafter.

Now, state education officials tell NBC Connecticut they have been working on a contract negotiation with the Gilbert School to keep in place the current arrangement.

"We are still working to get a good deal," said Kelly Donnelly, the Chief of Staff to Connecticut's Commissioner of the Department of Education. "We are working to keep Gilbert's deal intact."

GIlbert is one of three private schools in Connecticut that has an agreement with its local public school system to take public school students, with the board of education footing the cost of tuition.

It's been an arrangement that Tim O'Meara has utilized for years. His sons mark the fourth generation of his family to graduate from Gilbert.

“It’s a thriving school, it’s a growing school, we’ve won awards, we have our principal of the year here. Our SAT scores have gone up every year," O'Meara said.

Several months ago, O'Meara was outraged when the state receiver, charged with running the Winchester school system privately, and later publicly at a meeting in Granby floated the possibility of busing children from Winchester to Granby, Litchfield, and Torrington schools, thereby ending the arrangement with Gilbert that had been in place for more than 100 years.

O'Meara said, "It was told at a meeting in Granby, without any parents there before the community knew what was going on.”

The state receiver, Robert Travaglini, then faced a firestorm of criticism and frustration from hundreds of parents who felt decisions were being made behind their backs by a state appointed official.

The state took over Winchester Public Schools last year when the town faced rampant financial woes, and even lacked basic accounting procedures in some cases.

Donnelly, with the Department of Education said Winchester's Town Council has to send a budget that includes funding for Gilbert to voters who then have to approve it in order for the state to move forward with a contract to keep the arrangement with Gilbert intact.

"The state is still working to get a good deal," Donnelly reiterated.

Gilbert's principal, Alan Strauss, who's the Connecticut Principal of the Year and a candidate for the National Principal of the Year, said if students are sent to new schools, that raises issues in both social and academic areas.

“One of the things that we firmly believe in is educating the whole child and I don’t think a child can be educated in another community," he said.

O'Meara said the only place he wants his kids enrolled is Gilbert and will ensure that happens.

"I would pay to come to Gilbert if I had to," he said.

Winchester residents will hear about the education spending plan at a meeting next Monday.

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