Faced with declining enrollment and the choice between closing Gorton or Aldrich Junior High Schools, a short-term committee that has been studying the issue for about two months recommended closing Gorton yesterday afternoon.
The 7-0 vote came on a motion by Robert Bushell, director of elementary schools and a committee member. The recommendation now goes to the School Committee.
When the committee will consider the recommendation, which the administration has indicated will include a public hearing, could not be determined as of yesterday afternoon. However, Dennis Mullen said prior to the meeting that he was hopeful a vote would be taken and that the process would not be delayed. Mullen is the director of secondary schools and chaired the committee.
"This is something we have to do and we're not jumping for joy about," Mullen said after the vote.
He expected the School Committee would do its due diligence before taking a vote, but for it to take effect by the next academic year, the administration will need to start soon on scheduling and the redistricting so that the students who are now in three schools are incorporated in two schools - Aldrich and Winman.
There was some discussion as to whether two junior high schools could be expanded into middle schools incorporating grades 6-8. That issue was raised in an earlier meeting when Bushell said it would only be a matter of time before the system went to all-day kindergarten, which would require additional elementary school classrooms that could be gained by a middle school system.
"I looked at the current populations in the schools, based on the populations on the RIDE website, and I don't see how we can put a sixth grade into two junior high schools," said committee member David Testa who moved to suspend the committee.
"This is a short-sighted thing. For chasing today's dollars, I think we handcuff tomorrow's kids, and I just don't think this is the way to go right now until we have decided what kind of district we want to be."
"If we close the junior high school and then decide to go to a middle school model, it's many years before we're there," he said.
Asked how he felt about the outcome of the committee's deliberations, Mullen said, "I'm pleased in a sense, because something had to be done. We could not continue with the potential costs. We're talking about millions and millions that could be utilized for students in a better way."
As for where the system will be with two junior highs, he said, "My hope, if it does go through, is that we end up with just as good a system if not better."
The projected operating savings of closing either school was placed at $1.1 million. In addition, there are capital costs, such as fire code improvements, that will be saved by the closing of either school.
The consolidation of the schools will result in about $500,000 in added busing costs. That cost has been calculated in the overall $1.1 million in operating savings.
The vote on recommending the closure of Gorton came quickly after discussion on the motion to suspend the committee's work until it met and discussed its findings with the long-range facilities committee. That group has not met since it was formed about two months ago.
That motion was defeated.
Bushell did not give an explanation for his motion to close Gorton. He was asked by fellow committee members and reportedly offered that it is a better-looking school.
According to information provided the committee, capacities at the junior highs range from 1,273 at Gorton to 1,311 at Winman. All three schools currently have 517 or fewer students and are operating at less than 50 percent capacity. Moving Gorton students to Winman and Aldrich would have those schools operating at about 80 percent of capacity.
With reports from Jessica Botelho