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Town Officials Weighing School Space Solutions

Braintree Public Schools are overcrowded, though some more than others, and in response to that and parents' concerns, officials are looking at ways to handle the issue.

Town Officials Weighing School Space Solutions

The overcrowding problems facing are not a new phenomenon, nor are they the worst the town has seen, but in response to the resurgence of and buildings , officials are examining different ways to address the issue.

Councilor John Mullaney, at the annual Town Meeting where the for 2012, said that he has been looking into the cost of a new school and said it could run the town $17.5 million, with a match from the state putting yearly payments at about $500,000.

"We have antiquated schools," Mullaney said, an idea echoed a short time later when James McPartlin, the father of a student going into fourth grade next year, stood up in front of the council and urged officials to do something about class sizes.

Because of unfilled retirements, in September , and will see class sizes of 23 to 27 in grades 3 to 5. One fourth grade class is expected to have 27 students, according to a projection of class sizes at all levels produced by the school department.

"That number is just too high," McPartlin told councilors.

Solutions come in short and long-term forms. Rearranging classes is one short-term possibility, especially if a shift in kindergarteners to the allows less sections at that level, Superintendent Dr. Peter Kurzberg said at the May 31 meeting. Reopening Monatiquot School as a full-fledged kindergarten center could also relieve pressure in the elementary schools. Monatiquot and Eldridge were closed in 2004. Since then, the district has added about 500 students, and is expected to add the same amount or more in the coming decade.

"We have less space and more students, and I think everyone recognizes we need to do something about it," Kurzberg said.

Reopening Eldridge, though, might not be the answer because operational costs could outweigh its small capacity. "There is some inefficiency in operating a building that size as an elementary school," Kurzberg said.

The mayor's office is looking into the possibility of a new school, Chief of Staff and Operations Peter Morin said, but any new construction would come after an external audit of the department that the , and would require an examination of the town's overall financial position.

"It's in the discussion," Morin said. "We look at the needs of all the departments and try to find a harmony among them."

School Committee Chair David Cunningham encouraged a wider perspective on the issue, one that he said is more complex than many people realize. Simply adding classrooms, either by opening schools or building them, he said, also requires more money for additional teachers and equipment.

He also noted that class sizes can be cyclic, with some years showing higher numbers than others. When his son was in third grade at Highlands Elementary several years ago, for instance, he had 29 students in his class.

"We're certainly not at the worst point we've been at," Cunningham said. "Generally [high class size] is more of a fear of the abstract."

Kurzberg expressed a similar sentiment in responding to councilors' questions at the May 31 meeting. Whatever the solution officials land on, it will be dictated by the actual numbers that come of an , at what grade level they land and where they move in town.

And whether the answer is to open a new school, reopen existing buildings or some other combination, Kurzberg said the quality of Braintree's programs will help get parents and kids through the changes.

"No one likes to hear the word redistricting, but every student has survived redistricting," he said. "Every parent feels their elementary school is the best elementary school, and when they move they think their new elementary school is the best elementary school."

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