WESTBROOK – Closing Prides Corner Elementary School and reconfiguring classes for kindergarten through fifth grade would be the least devastating way to erase a $2.4 million deficit in next year’s budget for Westbrook schools, say administrators.

The plan has emerged as one of three potential solutions to the shortfall that the administration is considering as it prepares its 2012-13 budget proposal.

Superintendent Marc Gousse said students will be sent home from school today with a letter to parents outlining those proposals.

The other scenarios involve cutting positions and programs by proposing no increase to the budget; or by making a list of priorities based on the district’s strategic plan. Administrators have not yet targeted specific positions or programs that would be cut.

Under the reconfiguration, Westbrook would have three elementary schools for kindergarten through fourth grade. Fifth-graders would attend Westbrook Middle School, which now serves grades six through eight.

Westbrook now has four schools for 1,123 students in grades K-5. Two of the schools, including Prides Corner, serve kindergarten through second grade, and two serve third through fifth grade.

Although Gousse said he can’t imagine proposing a budget without cuts and a tax increase, closing Prides Corner and reconfiguring grades would save $500,000 and mitigate the direct effect on students. “It’s the most palatable,” he said.

The reconfiguration would change where about 385 students — including all 185 of next year’s fifth-graders — would go to school next year, said Jeremy Ray, director of operations for the district. Ray said that estimate is based on a preliminary remapping of the districts.

A community forum on the budget is scheduled Jan. 5 at Westbrook Middle School. Gousse said that’s where the administration will start to get a sense of how residents feel about the scenarios under consideration.

Gousse, a former principal of Westbrook High School, took over as superintendent in March, when the district was facing a $3.7 million shortfall and considering cutting as many as 80 positions. After a series of emotional hearings, voters approved a $30.9 million budget that eliminated 42 positions for this school year.

Gousse said he started the budget process early this year to avoid a similar scenario.

Closing a school, however, can also stir emotions, as evidenced in the past couple of years in communities throughout the state.

Prides Corner Principal Janet Crawford said that, so far, there has been a surprisingly subdued reaction from her staff, which learned last week that the school might close. “They took it like troupers,” she said.

Prides Corner, which was built in 1950 and last renovated in the 1980s, was targeted for closure because it’s the school in greatest need of repair, Gousse said.

He said the replacement of the roof and a boiler that “could go at any second” are among $2 million worth of renovations needed immediately and more than $8 million in total repairs.

Closing the school would save the district $500,000 by eliminating some positions and the cost of running the building, said Gousse. Most of the staff at Prides Corner would be moved elsewhere in the district.

Crawford said she and her staff would be sad not to work together, but they see the upside of closing the school and reconfiguring grades. She said relationship-building is important, so having students stay in the same school for five years, as opposed to three, is “a huge benefit.”

The reconfiguration also would give the district an opportunity to even out student-teacher ratios. Because of shrinking enrollment, classes are too big at some schools and too small at others, said Peter Lancia, the district’s director of teaching and learning.

The plan hinges on getting the School Committee’s approval to close the school. Gousse said he hopes the committee will vote on that in February, so he can move forward with formulating his budget proposal.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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