When Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo spoke at the ribbon-cutting of the newly-renovated Augusta Lewis Troup School in September, he was brimming with enthusiasm for the city’s innovative school reconstruction efforts. To an audience of cheering Troup children, faculty and parents, Mayo declared: “What other superintendent in the country can boast of a $1.5 billion construction project?”
But four months later, the superintendent may have little more to boast about. Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced last week that the renovation of Davis Street Interdistrict Magnet School will have to be delayed from its scheduled start in January 2009 to at least the summer of 2009. Davis School is the fourth New Haven school since October to have its scheduled renovation delayed or cancelled.
Reconstruction plans for Hill Central Elementary School and East Rock Global Magnet School have already been placed on the back burner.
And with each renovation postponement, chances are slimming that DeStefano’s Citywide School Construction Program will be completed by 2010, the target year for the fulfillment of the program.
School Construction Manager Susan Weisselberg said the school renovation delays are unfortunate but necessary in light of deficit-mitigating measures in both the city and state governments.
“We’re trying to be fiscally responsible while also looking out for welfare of the kids,” she said. “It’s a struggle and a challenge.”
In the September 2007 Comprehensive Facilities Plan Update report for the Citywide School Construction Program, the total cost of the Davis School renovation project was projected at $42 million. The report stated that Davis School was “inadequate” and “in very poor condition.”
Ward 4 Alderwoman Andrea Jackson-Brooks, the chair of the aldermanic education committee, said she was disappointed to learn that the Davis School renovation would be delayed, but she said she understood that there was no other alternative to the postponement. Jackson-Brooks said she does not know whether more renovation delays will follow the Davis School’s, and she maintained that the state and city governments have made no promises when it comes to further funding cuts.
“Both the governor and the mayor have pretty much said that anything and everything is on the table,” Jackson-Brooks said.
In addition to the postponement of Davis School’s renovation, DeStefano also announced that the property of Timothy Dwight School on Edgewood Avenue will be put up for sale, with its proceeds helping to pay for the completion of the other school renovation projects. Dwight School was closed at the end of last school year; its students and teachers were sent to the newly renovated Troup School at the beginning of this school year.
In October, DeStefano announced that the same strategy would be implemented at Vincent E. Mauro Interdistrict Magnet School — the building would be closed, and students and faculty would be diverted to Sheridan Communications and Technology Magnet Middle School.
“We shouldn’t deceive ourselves of how it’s going to be,” DeStefano said at the Oct. 22 press conference, referring to the school closings and other budget cutback measures he planned for the city. “It’s going to be difficult.”
City officials were forced to decide between selling the property of Dwight School or Mauro School, but ultimately decided to keep the Mauro School building because it is 20 years younger and has three more classrooms than Dwight School, Weisselberg said. Mauro School will be used each year as a swing space for students enrolled in another school undergoing renovation.
Weisselberg said the need to conserve budget funds may also lead to other cutbacks in the public schools. Specifically, Weisselberg predicted that literacy coaches and paraprofessionals hired to provide extra assistance and tutoring in elementary school classrooms may have to be terminated as a result of decreased state funding for local reading initiatives. Some schools have already been forced to cut back on their number of administrators, Weisselberg said.
In addition to Dwight, Hill Central and East Rock Schools, three other schools are slated to be reconstructed by 2010.