The student population of Groton's two middle schools will quickly become imbalanced as enrollment climbs at West Side and falls at Cutler Middle School, and enrollment at Catherine Kolnaski Magnet School will climb to nearly 500 students within two years.
Those were some of the key findings of a report by the Branford consulting firm Milone & MacBroom, which spoke to the Board of Education this week.
The school board hired the firm because the district was cited by the state for a racial imbalance at Catherine Kolnaski, and had to come up with a redistricting plan. It's since learned it has pending imbalances at five other schools.
The consultant also found that the population at S.B. Butler will decline to just over 200 students by the 2017-18 school year, which may require a redrawing of boundaries around that school. Meanwhile, enrollment at Catherine Kolnaski is expected to reach 495 children by the 2013-14 school year.
“You’ve gotten to a point at that school where you can no longer keep class sizes where they’re manageable,” said Mike Zuba, associate with Milone & MacBroom.
The consultant reported that West Side and Cutler middle schools will have a significant enrollment imbalance by the 2017-18 school year. West Side is projected to have 651 students that year, while the population at Cutler Middle School is expected to fall to 413 students, the report said.
Town Councilor James Streeter, who hopes to serve on the task force looking at future school construction, said the findings are revealing.
“There’s a huge difference in population in those two areas,” he said, adding that if data is not reviewed, "We could find ourselves in the same situation that Groton is in now."
In addition, the report pointed out vast differences among the schools in the area of economics and racial balance.
For example, Catherine Kolnaski reported a minority population of 70 percent during the last school year, while S.B. Butler reported a minority population of less than 20 percent.
Zuba said the consultant also found the school buildings themselves have significant needs. Most Groton schools were built in the 1950s and 60s, and the district depends on portables for classrooms, the report said.
“There are 13 (portables) at the elementary schools, all over 20 years old,” Zuba said. “And they’re used as instructional space every day. So they’re highly reliant on them."
Zuba said Groton needs a short-term plan to fix the racial imbalance, but also one that fits into something bigger and longer-term for the schools.
“You don’t want to do redistricting and then have to undo it once you decide what your long-term facility plan is,” he said, adding, “Any change you make now has to recognize what’s going to happen five to eight years from now.”