DURHAM/MIDDLEFIELD — Voters will be asked to grant the Region 13 Board of Education the ability to close Lyman Elementary School in a referendum question on the Nov. 2 ballot.
The closure would reconfigure the four remaining schools in the district. Although the reconfiguration has not yet been decided, the most likely outcome would place Pre-K through 2nd grade at Brewster Elementary School, 3rd through 5th grade at Memorial School, 6-8th grade at Frank Ward Strong Middle School and 9-12th grade at Coginchaug Regional High School.
Robert Moore, chair of the Board of Education, said that the major reason for closing the school was the declining enrollment in the district. According to state data, enrollment in the district has decreased by over 600 students since the 2009-10 school year.
Moore said that the board voted to close the school in January of 2019. However, because of rules surrounding the regionalization plan, a town referendum is necessary to give the Board of Education the power to close a school. In January of 2020, a referendum that would have given the board the power to close any school in the district failed.
Unlike the previous referendum, Moore said, this question will only give the Board of Education the power to close Lyman Elementary. The referendum will need to gain a majority vote in both towns in order to pass.
According to a presentation given to the Middletown Board of Finance in early October, the town of Middlefield, where the school is located, could save approximately half a million dollars per year by closing the school. Ed Bailey, first selectman of Middlefield, said this could reduce future tax increases in the town.
The presentation showed that closing the school would save the town roughly $1.5 million per year in operating expenses. In order to accommodate the 190 students currently at Lyman, a plan created in 2019 would add six additional classrooms at Brewster and eliminate two portable classrooms, which would cost approximately $2.15 million. The district would also make approximately $346,000 in modifications to Memorial.
Moore said this plan was one of several options the Board was considering. He said that if the referendum were to pass, any changes to the remaining schools would be made only after hearing from the public.
If the school is allowed to close, it will be up to the district to decide what to do with the property. Moore said the district has already received an “informal request” from a religious school in Meriden.
Doug Schuch, the superintendent of Region 13 Schools, said that if Lyman were to remain open, the district would need to spend $4.25 million on capital repairs to the building. He said that $2.8 million of those repairs would need to happen immediately.
Schuch said that closing the school would save money in both fixed costs and in the cost of support staff. He also said that the closure would give teachers a greater opportunity to collaborate with one another, since now teachers in the same grade level would all be located in the same building.
“There are significant advantages of doing this,” he said.
Schuch also said that class sizes in the district would not increase, since the teachers would move with the students to whichever school the students were placed in.
Moore said that the main concern he heard from community members was that the closure would happen too quickly. In August, the Board made a resolution that the school would not close until June 2023.
Moore also said that one of the major reasons that people wanted to keep Lyman open was the school’s Integrated Day program. However, Moore said that in 2018, the Board had voted to adopt a single learning program, and that components of integrated day have been incorporated throughout the district. Schuch said that he planned to take the best elements of the Integrated Day model and incorporate it into the other schools as part of a broader look at the district’s learning models.
“One of the opportunities we’re hoping to take is looking at all our programming and really reimagining it,” Schuch said.
Bailey said that he believed that closing the school was the best move.
“Even if we don’t have any savings passed on to the taxpayer, at least the school district has the opportunity to spend the money on their programs, academic programs, instead of spending it on a building that’s excess capacity,” he said.
Durham First Selectman Laura Francis said she believed most of the community was now in support of the closure.
“There was a lot of emotion about it several years ago, when the concept was first brought up, but I think that through education and information being disseminated, a lot of our community members have accepted the fact that it’s the right thing to do,” she said.