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Aug. 5, 2019 is the date the Madison Board of Education will formally turn Island Avenue Elementary School over to the town. (Photo by Zoe Roos/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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Having decided last year that Island Avenue Elementary School will close at the end of the 2018-’19 school year, on June 5 the Board of Education (BOE) voted that the district will turn Island Avenue Elementary School back over to the town on Aug. 5, 2019.
In response to declining enrollment, the BOE voted in 2017 to close Island and shrink the district from six schools to five schools. Since that announcement, the district has been working on a plan to reconfigure the schools and Superintendent of Schools Tom Scarice said August 2019 is an appropriate date to turn Island over to the town.
“We are working with a reconfiguration plan and timeline so that the closure of Island Avenue and most importantly the transitioning of students, staff, and resources happens in a seamless way so that we open up in September 2019 without a flaw,” he said.
Scarice said he and the board have consulted with the facilities director and are comfortable that August 2019 is a workable goal. Scarice said a numerous tasks have to be accomplished before that date, but the district has a plan.
“We have done walk-throughs with the facilities and technology directors to kind of look and see what is necessary to move in the kitchen, in the classroom, in any office spaces,” he said. “This summer our facilities director will walk through again with the elementary school principals just to be clear on what has to move where and when so when summer of 2019 comes, we are able to do it in a very sequential, seamless way.”
The BOE voted to close Island Avenue in October 2017 after the failed referendum to rebuild Ryerson Elementary School. Many residents had advocated during the referendum that voting “No” might stop an Island closure, but the BOE stuck to the plan to close Island in response to declining enrollment. At the vote to close, all the members who spoke addressed how difficult the decision was to close the school, but said based on the age of the building, the years of studies, the era of declining enrollment, and numerous other factors, closure is the best way forward, and board member Seth Klaskin did not hold back.
“In light of the atrocious misinformation campaign that surround the recent failed referendum and which has tainted this important town planning decision, I feel the need to articulate the reasoning behind my vote,” he said previously. “…Although the closure of Island Avenue was part of the plan that recently failed at referendum, that plan was one of many that all included and assumed the closure of our oldest elementary school…While a handful of folks made some fairly preposterous claims about how a new school would jack up property taxes, one fact was lost in the wash: Closing an elementary school would shift $1 million per year to our core education spending, the spending that does make a difference, no matter where the program is delivered.”
Since the news that Island would close in 2019, other parties have taken an interest in the school or the school property including Our Lady of Mercy (OLM) Prep and those engaged in the debate over the future of Academy School.
The most interested contender for the school building is OLM Prep, a school group that hopes to use Island as a home for a private school in 2019, a year after the closing of OLM on Neck Road. The town and the private school groups are still in discussion over the financial feasibility of a potential lease agreement, and Board of Selectmen (BOS) member Bruce Wilson said having a date from the BOE on the turnover of Island just clarifies one part of the discussion.
“It brings certainty for that part of the discussion and at that point that is really all it does,” he said.
The BOS had been asking for a date for when Island Avenue might be turned back over to the town, but BOE Chair Katie Stein said she was not rushed or pressured into having the BOE set a date prematurely.
“I did not feel pressured,” she said. “I felt at times maybe confused as to what they [the BOS] were looking for exactly, but once it became clear to me what the goal was, it was fairly easy from there. I just didn’t want to disrupt our process of accelerate our process if we didn’t know what was necessary. I wanted to continue along our road and work with the town and certainly not be obstructive in any way, but certainly not change our process for an ambiguous reason.”
With a date for the turnover now set, Scarice said parents will learn more about the student redistricting process this fall.
“We won’t have any definitive redistricting information until after Oct. 1,” he said. “The reason for that is that is the date the state collects formal enrollment numbers. It’s a big date where the data on Oct. 1 is more or less frozen and determines a lot of your statistical benchmarks for the district, how many kids you have enrolled and such, and that gives us a nice window of time to be clear…Oct. 1 we have a formal list and shortly after that we will be pretty comfortable letting parents know what will be changed from a redistricting perspective.”
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