Chatham sets public discussion on school closure option

CHATHAM–The school board set Tuesday, August 14 at 6:30 p.m. as the date and time for a public discussion on the district’s facilities study, which includes a discussion of closing the Middle School.

A second public discussion meeting will be scheduled after the school year begins.

 

Also at its July 3 meeting the board also elected Melony Spock president for the 2012-13 year. Ms. Spock succeeds John Wapner, who began serving as president in 2005 and attended his last board meeting June 26. James Toteno was re-elected vice president.

The Oath of Office was administered to reelected board member David O’Connor, newly elected member Jennifer Lindberg, and to new Student Representative Emma Roberts. In addition, Muriel Faxon was appointed a member of the board.

One of the issues the new board will face immediately is the facilities study, which was conducted by an outside consulting group, Frank Nizer, Daralene Jewell and Dave Sicko. The findings of the study were presented to the board during a recent special meeting at which Mr. Nizer said that the district could achieve about $1.3 million in “savings and cost avoidance” if it were to close the Middle School building on Woodbridge Avenue.

During the July 3 meeting, the board discussed a timeline that includes community feedback on the study before agreeing to the August 14 date. During the discussion, a few of the board members expressed concern about holding such a meeting too early in the process.

“I think the idea of public comments will be very important,” said James Cartin. But he added that more analysis of the study may be needed to better prepare the board to answer the public’s questions.

Mr. O’Connor said that though there are a lot of questions still to be answered, the public’s voice on this case should be heard sooner rather than later. “I think if we got overwhelming feedback from the community that they wanted no part of this, then maybe we don’t need to go any further,” he said. He later added that the board should find out “right there from the public that attends if there is a lot of interest in it.”

Superintendant Cheryl Nuciforo said that she understood the concern about consulting the community too early without having all of the answers that waiting could cause an issue with people feeling the school “went too far along the road without hearing what they had to say.”

Ms. Nuciforo believes the board can address community concerns as well as continue analyzing the study simultaneously. She suggested the August 14 date, as well as adding a second meeting after the school year begins so updated data and answers can be presented.

The board members emphasized that the findings of the study do not mean that the board has made a decision, with several members repeating that this is “not a done deal.”

“Ultimately, it’s going to rest with the public,” Mr. O’Connor said. He added that public input is the missing piece.

Ms. Nuciforo said that the August 14 meeting will be about presenting and describing the report and what it could mean. She said the district wants to hear the community’s reactions and questions as the board and administration “develop our process for considering the findings.”

Also at last week’s meeting, the board was presented with a check for $1221.50 from Beth Hover, representing the Sean’s Run committee. The money was raised by an event called the Zumbathon held by the Sean’s Run organization earlier this year. The money will go towards the Chatham High School Driver’s Education program.

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