School Board Chairman Brian Shirvell said Monday that Groton schools will start the next fiscal year $3.7 million in the hole if they try to keep three middle schools open, and he believes they will be forced to close Cutler Middle School by default.
Shirvell made the comment as Groton struggles with the decision of whether to close one of its three middle schools and which one to close. , but has been criticized over planning and this decision.
Karen Podurgiel, a parent with children in the schools, asked the board Monday to wait until the 2013-14 school year to make a choice. She said the “overwhelming” is the timeline is too tight and “this transition will not be smooth.”
But Shirvell said he believes the board will be backed into a corner if it takes that approach.
“I’ll give you bluntly what I feel will happen if you recind the vote and I’ll explain why,” he said, adding, “Cutler Middle School will close by default. . .”
Superintendent Paul Kadri did not dispute Shirvell’s figures, but said Monday he would estimate the shortfall more conservatively at $3.3 million.
Shirvell explained that Groton will lose $1.4 million in federal money from a jobs program that expires Sept. 30, and will have to cover a 2 percent negotiated pay raises for teachers, who had zero percent the last two years. Fuel oil and other energy costs have also risen, he said.
Shirvell said the school department scrambled this year to have enough money, drained accounts like those for supplies and materials, and took $600,000 from a health care reserve account that will be unavailable next year.
He predicted taxpayers will not close a $3.7 million gap - it would require a 9 percent increase in the mill rate – so they will demand cuts.
The other large ticket items will have bigger pull, Shirvell predicted. For example, eliminating sports and student activities would save $900,000; getting rid of all-day kindergarten and returning to half day would save $800,000; raising class size from 25 to 28 students would save money but would be difficult to sell, Shirvell indicated.
He said the district would likely have to close a middle school anyway, and would be forced to keep Fitch Middle School open because it is largest and the distrcit would not have started planning to get portable classrooms.
The two schools remaining would be West Side and Cutler, and he said West Side would probably stay because it provides a student health center, an adult education program and a community center. The school is also the only one remaining in Groton city.
“Our numbers are almost identical in how we see the vision of the future,” Kadri said after Shirvell spoke.
Kadri said there is a $1.55 million difference between the cost of keeping three middle schools open and having two.