If it closes old school, Chatham could save $1.3M

CHATHAM–The school board honored outgoing President John Wapner with a plaque for his eight years of service on the board at special meeting on Tuesday night, June 26. Dr. Wapner did not run for reelection to his seat last May and this was his last meeting.

“Nobody understands how much hard work he puts into this,” said Board Vice President James Toteno at the meeting. Mr. Toteno said that at one point Dr. Wapner needed to take control of the district, and spearheaded the hiring of current superintendent Cheryl Nuciforo. “Thanks for getting us back on track,” Mr. Toteno said.

The board will hold a reorganization meeting Tuesday, July 3 to pick new board officers and swear in a new board member who was elected in May. The board also interviewed a prospective board member in an executive session before the meeting to fill the seat vacated by Francis Iaconetti.

The board convened the special meeting to review the facilities study conducted this year for the board by an outside group. Frank Nizer, the consultant working on the study, said that the district could save $680,000 in staffing and overhead if it closes the Middle School building on Woodbridge Avenue. He also said the district would save an additional $780,000 by not having to undertake projected construction projects on that building if it is closed.

That could yield a total of about $1.3 million in “savings and cost avoidance” from closing the school, he told the board at the meeting.

He also said that there isn’t a market currently for school buildings, so the district might want to look at renting the building, and possibly continuing to use portions of it. Mr. Nizer said that since it is a two-story building, “It lends itself very well to a rental situation.”

The study talked about the issues of moving all the students to one campus that now has the Elementary and High School buildings on the property. He suggested board members would need four more classrooms and an expanded gym to accommodate the middle school students.

The board voted to move the 5th grade to the Mary E. Dardess Elementary School next year, though Ms. Nuciforo said the move was decided for programmatic reasons, not because of space.

Both Mr. Nizer and Ms. Nuciforo said the board was not making any decisions about closing a school and school officials are in no rush to do so.

“You’ve taken on this study early, you’ve done it before you had to,” Mr. Nizer told the board. Many schools have had to close buildings to fill budget gaps. The school board is looking at closing a school mostly because of declining enrollment.

“If you were to start today you would be two years out,” Mr. Nizer said of making any changes to the current buildings and closing the Middle School. Ms. Nuciforo said the facilities committee would look at the study, and the board would have an open discussion about the results from the study at an upcoming meeting, though not the one on July 3.

The board also heard from each building principal as an end of year wrap-up. The principals brought test scores, showing improvement in Middle School test scores from fall to spring and 99% pass rate on the English Language Arts Regents exam in the high school. They also discussed student behavior and character education in all the schools.

“This is too good to be kept quiet,” said board member James Cartin of the positive results in all the scores and the outreach programs presented by administrators.

Mr. Toteno praised the principals for working together.

The next board meeting will be the July 3 reorganizational meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the High School Library.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

 

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