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Madison’s public school system faces a major shake-up, but not without due deliberation. In September, the Board of Education (BOE) resumed discussion about a longterm plan for its public schools—namely, whether to close all three of its elementary schools and build a new pre-K to 2 school, or to close one of its elementary schools and renovate the other two. At its Oct. 18 meeting, the BOE announced to the public that it will pursue a study of the latter option.
At a statement read at the meeting by BOE Chair Jean Fitzgerald and supported by Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice, the board stated, “This decision was based on three criteria: parity amongst the elementary schools, project cost, and school location. Within this model we will be also looking at Polson renovations and reviewing the optimal location for our pre-k program.”
The BOE’s goals are straightforward: to have schools that are in good condition, appropriate for the reduced number of incoming students, and in keeping with the district’s instructional vision. Closing Island Avenue Elementary School would consolidate students at the two remaining elementary schools, Ryerson and Jeffery, thus addressing the problem of declining enrollment. Both elementary schools would undergo renovations. Finally, annual operating costs of running the elementary schools and the Town Campus Learning Center (TCLC) preschool would drop by an estimated $974,218 in the five-school model. That all sounds positive—but many other factors still require review.
Fitzgerald read, “The next phase that we will be entering into will include, but not limited to: a geotechnical study, an environmental review, a wetland review, civil/drainage/utilities analysis, a traffic review, hazardous materials testing review, and an updated enrollment study. We will also be looking at a site plan test fit and we will get a better understanding of the required scope of the interior work needed to complete the project. We are looking forward to beginning the next phase of this process in November.”
The BOE reminded the public that it is still in the deliberation phase of the project, and has not yet decided on a course of action.
“The Board of Education remains in the study phase of this comprehensive project. Narrowing down considerations is simply the next stage in that phase,” Fitzgerald read. “Before any recommendations or informed decisions can be made, the board is rightfully pursuing answers to as many questions as possible to ensure that an appropriate amount of information has been gathered. The study phase of this process allows the board to consider the information gathered by experts in the field, and to use that information for the purposes of ultimately making a final decision. A more definitive decision can be expected following the study phase.”
The BOE, along with the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance, initially considered maintaining the current six-school model, but narrowed the focus to the four- and five-schools models after the Sept. 6 BOE meeting.
Both four- and five-school models present drawbacks and advantages. The four-school model has an estimated net cost of $40 million, with a mill rate impact of 0.24 mills—but that estimate does not include changes that would have to be made to Walter C. Polson Middle School and Robert H. Brown Middle School. The five-school model has an estimated net cost of $45 million after state reimbursement, with a mill rate impact of 0.67 mills. Housing students during renovations is one concern of the five-school model.
For the four-school plan with one centralized elementary school, increased bus times was a concern, along with the fate of the abandoned elementary school buildings. Both four- and five-school plans involve selling Island Avenue School for an estimated value of $2.75 million after demolition.