Jul 28, 2014
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Milford Parents Slam ‘Mega High School’ Proposal

Public forum draws adamant opposition to proposed changes in the district.

Milford Parents Slam ‘Mega High School’ Proposal
It wasn’t billed as “a mega high school” but that’s how Milford parents and residents received it.

One after another, they took to the lectern at the front of the auditorium at Jonathan Law High School and protested the proposed district reconfiguration.

“If we go to one mega high school, we’re going to lose so much,” said Krista Foster Heard, vice president of the Live Oaks Elementary School PTA.

“Having 2,000 students in one school is not the answer,” said Dolores Hannon.

Big crowd

About 300 people came out Tuesday night to hear what the Long Range Planning Committee – a diverse 31-member group formed last summer to address a sharp decline in student enrollment – had produced in terms of possible district reconfigurations.

Michael Zuba of external consultant Milone & MacBroom led the PowerPoint. He laid out three options: keeping things status quo; building a new high school; or retrofitting Foran High School to hold all the city’s future high schoolers.

The two latter alternatives revert to the previous K-5 arrangement (while adding pre-K), which the committee and public speakers Tuesday generally agreed was necessary to restore parental involvement.

But that’s just about as far as the congeniality went.

Concerns over sports, special needs students

“I will leave if you go to one mega high school,” said Heard, who worried kids would become lost to “other activities” as competition for sports would seemingly become more aggressive under a one high school district.

Staci Godek, president of the Live Oaks Elementary School PTA, said a large school is potentially problematic for special needs students, who may feel uncomfortable around “so many kids.”

A new high school or a retrofitted Foran would house 1,700 to 1,900 students. Currently, there are 910 students at Foran and 968 at Law.

Milford’s two high schools are located on opposite sides of the city and one speaker said that’s reason enough to keep the current arrangement intact.

“We have this wonderful system,” said Tim Chaucer, who is the director of the Milford Marine Institute and a member of the Milford Preservation Trust.

New high school alternative

It would take 10 years to construct a new high school at a cost of about $240 million. Under this arrangement, Foran and Law would transition to middle schools, each holding about 650 to 750 students.

Under this plan, an elementary school consolidation (pre-K-5) would keep open: East Shore, Harborside, West Shore, Mathewson, Orange Ave and Orchard Hills. The proposal closes Live Oaks, JFK, Calf Pen, Meadowside and Pumpkin Delight.

An additional $17.8 million would be needed for gyms and minor renovations at Mathewson, Orange Ave and Orchard Hills.

The proposed 331,000-square-foot new high school would require 50 to 55 acres of land, which could be tough to come by in Milford.

“Land is a true, finite resource in Milford,” Zuba, the consultant, said at an earlier committee meeting.

Retrofitting Foran

The cost to retrofit Foran to accommodate an additional 800 to 1,000 students as the sole high school in the district is about $56 million.

With this option, Law and East Shore would take on the middle schoolers and the elementary school consolidation (again, pre-K-5) would keep open all the schools in the new high school alternative, plus Meadowside.

An additional $23.8 million would be needed for gyms and minor renovations at Mathewson, Meadowside, Orange Ave and Orchard Hills.

Status quo ‘taxing on the system in the long-term’

Zuba said enrollment is down 1,200 students compared to nearly a decade ago and the district is expected to lose another 12 percent over the next five years.

Enrollment decline is a national trend that relates to falling birth rates, especially in affluent areas, he said after the forum.

But the options presented Tuesday represent more than a review of projected enrollment. The committee also took “an exhaustive look” at operational costs and required upgrades at school facilities, Zuba said.

And what they found was that keeping things status quo would prove “taxing on the system in the long-term,” he said.

Any proposed changes wouldn’t take effect until the 2015-16 school year. The committee is expected to formally present its recommendations to the full Milford Board of Education in March.

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