Middletown Eyes School Consolidation and New Construction to Cut Future Costs


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MIDDLETOWN — Amid discussions over a schools budget increase on Monday, several Common Council members suggested consolidating elementary schools or constructing a new building as a way to save costs in the future.

The district is requesting a 5.88% increase, or $5.77 million, over last year’s budget, bringing the total to just under $104 million. 

Superintendent Alberto Vázquez Matos told the Common Council that consolidating was “a double-edged sword.” Two years ago it would have been possible, he said, but the landscape has changed. 

“As development started to happen, there are pockets in the district where I don’t have room for any more students,” Vázquez Matos said. 

Vázquez Matos said that any conversations about consolidating would have to include redistricting, since the distribution of students across the city’s elementary schools is unequal. 

Vázquez Matos noted that the middle and high schools are also having capacity issues — Beman Middle School has reached 1,000 students, who will soon be attending Middletown High School, which is already short on space. 

Currently, the district is home to 4,378 students, a drop of about 260 over the last five years. At the elementary schools, the majority of the decline has happened at Farm Hill and Bielfield, while Lawrence’s population has increased. 

The superintendent attributed the increase in students in certain areas to affordable housing availability, which he said was far less expensive than in cities like Hartford and New Haven. 

Regarding the idea of building a new elementary school, district Facilities Director Kevin Dion said many repairs are needed at various elementary schools.

Common Council Majority Leader Eugene Nocera suggested adding a new elementary school to a multipurpose bond that the city expects to put before voters in November. 

“We, of course, really struggle with trying to insert in the budget revenue for capital needs. Let’s be transparent — we’ve struggled with that issue. Not because we don’t want to,” Nocera said.

The bond will include capital improvements for the city — possibly a new town hall or library — and capital needs for the school district.

“It’s a huge bond,” Nocera said. “But I think our taxpayers understand that we have to think long range, and we’re not spending all that money all at once. I think our taxpayers would support that.” 

Dion said his priority would be addressing the building structure. 

“We really shouldn’t worry about the brand new flooring if our roofs are leaking, if the air is leaking out and the buildings are cold,” he said. 

The district’s capital budget request is $72.4 million over the next five years, and includes items like updating HVAC systems, repairing sidewalks, new boilers and roof replacements. 

Part of the $29 million budgeted for the first year includes a possible renovation of MacDonough or a new construction. However, Dion noted that this approach also presented challenges, as the square footage of many of their buildings exceeds the per-pupil square footage permitted by the state.

Vázquez Matos the district also needed to consider whether Kegwin School could be used as a site for a vocational tech school, or converted into space for a special education students receiving services outside the district to return to the local public schools. 

One of the major budget drivers this year is the rising cost of transportation for special education students who attend schools outside the district, and the cost of tuition for special education students and magnet school students. 

The district must also cover costs stemming from various state laws, including an estimated $500,000 to install tampon dispensers in boys bathrooms and between $700,000 and $1 million for a new reading curriculum. 

While the district expects to see its state aid rise by $500,000 this year, Director of Innovation and Grants Natalie Forbes said this could go toward a number of items, including the new reading curriculum, expanding a high-dosage tutoring program in mathematics or expanding the Math Pathways program at the middle and high schools. Vázquez Matos noted that the district could also allocate the funds toward hiring more staff to support the English language learner student population, which has tripled in size.

The Board of Education has yet to approve the budget, which will then require approval by the Common Council. 

Emilia Otte

Emilia Otte covers health and education for the Connecticut Examiner. In 2022 Otte was awarded "Rookie of the Year," by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.