From the Bristol Press – Updated 4/13 9:15 PM

BRISTOL — The Board of Education will propose closing at least one and possibly two schools at next week’s Board of Finance meeting in order to meet a smaller-than-requested school budget increase proposed by the city comptroller.

The school board has asked for a 4.47 percent increase for 2016-17, amounting to $4.7 million more for the district, but Comptroller Glenn Klocko has proposed an increase of 1.44 percent.

Officials have not said which schools they are considering closing, but the Finance Board will meet Wednesday, April 20, to examine three scenarios, in which “School A,” “School B” or both are closed at the end of this school year. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at City Hall.

Chris Wilson, school board chairman, would not name the schools under consideration.

Closing the first of the two possible schools would bring an estimated savings of $2,181,736, Wilson said. Closing the second potential school would save $4,453,456. The combined total of $6,635,192 would be a greater savings than Klocko has requested.

Under the School A scenario, all pre-kindergarten classes would be relocated to the building to create a district pre-K center, with ongoing operating costs estimated at $140,915.

If School B closed, the plan would include creating a special education regional center there, with ongoing operating costs estimated at $317,481.

Superintendent of Schools Ellen Solek said she would prefer school employees not hear about the possibility of their particular school closing while they are on spring break this week. “None of us is happy about the prospect of closing any schools in the district,” she said.

She said closing either or both schools would increase class sizes at remaining schools by about three or four students per classroom.

Wilson said it is too soon to know if any of the scenarios would mean just the students from the closed schools would be redistricted or if it would affect all schools.

For 2012-13, the district went through a major redistribution of elementary and middle school students due to the closure of four aged schools and the opening of two new ones.

The rationale for closing two schools next year would be “that we can actually add back some of the programming, special ed staffing and other operational costs that have been taken out [of the proposed budget] at the 4.47 percent level,” Solek said.

Solek said reconfiguring would also mean closing the Bristol Early Childhood Center (BECC) on Stafford Avenue, which currently houses five pre-K classrooms, including some for special education.

The building that houses BECC is maintained by the city, so pulling the pre-K classes from there would not save the district any money, Solek said.

Kim Hapken, district special services director, said there are 300 pre-K students district-wide, including 75 to 80 at BECC. The unnamed School A could house that many, she said.

Solek said she hopes that an upcoming audit of Bristol’s special education services by the Capital Region Education Council could help plan the regional center.

She noted that if it turns out the estimated costs of each scenario is not enough to get to the budget target there could be additional staff layoffs.

Wilson said finance board chair Cheryl Thibeault asked the district to provide an impact statement on how it would manage if 1.44 percent is the final increase given. “We’ve had a week to work on these,” he said.

David Hayes, president of the Bristol Federation of Teachers, said union representatives will be at the April 20 meeting and are encouraging “a strong turnout of members.”

“Every union in the district has taken numerous pay freezes the last six years, and special education costs have ballooned, yet Bristol is still one of the lowest funded school districts in the state,” Hayes said.

“Per-pupil spending is the lowest in the DRG [District Reference Group], and eighth from the bottom of all districts in the state,” he added.

Susan Corica can be reached at 860-584-0501 ext. 1802 or scorica@bristolpress.com

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