GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

January 11, 2013

My View: Surplus of Fuller makes educational, financial sense

My View
Jonathan Pope

---- — The Gloucester School Committee takes their responsibility of financial oversight of the School Department very seriously.

For the past 10 years resources for education have been very limited, the same as all city departments. The Plan for Effective Learning Communities, enacted in 2007, was four years in development. In 2008, we closed Fuller because it did not fit into our educational vision and to save money. This week, we have declared Fuller School as surplus.

Recently, people have advocated for the reopening of Fuller as a cost-savings measure. There may be some savings, but not nearly enough to justify the cost of renovating the building to current standards.

In 2006-7, the last year that it was used as a K-5 school, Fuller had 484 students in four sections of Grade 1 through 5, along with five kindergarten sections and four separate special education classrooms for a total of 29 classes.

For comparison only, I will use a combination of Beeman and Veterans Schools, which last year had a combined student population of 520 in five sections of K-3 and four sections of 4th `and 5th grade classes and 2 separate Special Education classrooms for a total of 31 classes.

Fuller School covers 176,000 square feet, of which 12,500 square feet — or 7 percent of the building — is occupied by the preschool and the administration. Beeman and Vets are a combined 71,000 square feet, of which 9,000 square feet or 12.5 percent are modular classrooms added in 2008. In 2006-7 the energy costs / combined heat and electricity for Fuller School was $254,026.

The combined energy costs for Beeman and Vets was a total of $109,938 for the same year. When you decrease Fuller’s energy costs by 7 percent for the administration and pre-school, and increase Beeman/Vets by 12.5 percent — the modular classrooms added later — add the 11.5 percent that energy cost have increased since 2007, it would cost $125,500 more to heat and light Fuller School than Beeman and Vets.

When we consider staffing requirements, we find some savings and some increased costs. In 2006-7 Fuller had a principal and two assistant principals. Beeman and Vets have a principal each. If we used the ‘07 Fuller model, it would cost about $60,000 more.

In 2006-7, Fuller required a lead Janitor and 3 regular Janitors. Beeman and Vets each have 1 regular Janitor. At Fuller there would be at least $75,000 additional cost in maintenance labor plus the costs of supplies. You are cleaning twice as much building.

Based on this year’s enrollment and maintaining target class size you could have 3 less classroom teachers bringing the number of classrooms to 28. It is difficult to determine if there would be any savings in special education, as the services we provide are driven by individual education plans which are specific to individual students and are delivered one to one or in small group settings.

There were seven special ed teachers at Fuller in 2007, and there are seven special ed teachers at Beeman/Vets right now. Because there would be about a 10 percent reduction in the number of classes — 31 to 28 — you could expect a 10 percent reduction in the specialist teachers, or about .6 fewer specialist teachers. The savings for 3.6 teachers would be $216,000 at Fuller.

Assuming you could just unlock the doors and set up a school, it would cost about $44,000 more to provide the same services that you are now providing at Beeman and Vets.

We know that repairs would have to be made. What would it cost to open the doors to a safe Fuller School with functioning heating electrical alarm and intercom systems, a building that has no leaks or asbestos and was bright an cheery? I do know — it wouldn’t be cheap.

In 2011, the state assessed the condition of Fuller to be among the 23rd worst in the state. I do know that whatever it costs there would be no reimbursement from the state, and we would lose Massachusetts School Building Authority reimbursement for the new roofs at Beeman and Vets.

It is regrettable to lose the Fuller auditorium and gymnasium as community assets, but they are not needed for educational purposes.

The closing and declaration as surplus of Fuller not only makes educational sense it is a sound financial decision.

Jonathan Pope is chairman of the Gloucester School Committee.