WESTBROOK – The School Committee voted Wednesday night in favor of closing Prides Corner Elementary School, which would set in motion a plan to reconfigure elementary grades throughout the district.
The 6-1 vote was the first of two needed for the school to close and the plan to move forward. Committee member Jim Violette cast the sole dissenting vote, but said he might change his mind before the final vote next month.
“Questions aren’t answered,” Violette said of the overall plan to reconfigure grades.
Westbrook has four elementary schools. Two of them, including Prides Corner, serve kindergarten through second grade. Two other schools serve third through fifth grades.
Under the proposal by the district’s administration, the city would have three schools for kindergarten through fourth grade, and fifth-graders would attend Westbrook Middle School.
The school department has held three community forums on the plan. A fourth forum is scheduled for 6 tonight at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, in the middle school.
“This is a very big deal,” said Superintendent Marc Gousse. “It’s not taken lightly and hasn’t been taken lightly.”
Closing the school would save $500,000 for the district, which faces a $2.5 million budget shortfall, Gousse has said. Built in 1950, the school needs millions of dollars worth of repairs, including an $800,000 boiler and heating system.
He said Wednesday that people have asked him whether he would recommend closing the school if the district weren’t in such a difficult financial situation.
“The answer is, absolutely,” Gousse said.
Peter Lancia, the district’s director of teaching and learning, said the reconfiguration of grades would be beneficial to students because they would spend more years at each school they attend, which would let teachers get to know them and their parents better. They also would make fewer transitions to new schools, which can be difficult for younger students.
Committee members said Wednesday that parents are concerned about fifth-graders attending school and riding buses with eighth-graders.
Lancia said the middle school would segregate fifth- and sixth-graders from seventh- and eighth-graders. Jeremy Ray, the district’s operations director, said seating on buses could be assigned by grade.
Ray said administrators are also looking at starting the school day later throughout the district, which would affect the transportation plan.
School Committee member Alex Stone said changing the start time “is going to be a big problem for parents” and warrants its own discussion.
Violette expressed concern about how the reconfiguration would affect the amount of time students spend on buses.
Committee member Suzanne Salisbury said that while the questions were relevant, the matter at hand was whether to close the Prides Corner school.
“We’re not going to get this all worked out tonight,” she said. “We’re on the edge of a very difficult series of things.”
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at: