The idea advanced by Superintendent Richard Safier for a potential new school in West Gloucester housing up to perhaps 500 pupils at least recognizes the need for a school that would include more than the current West Parish enrollment of 380, as we've proposed in the past.
While that figure would not represent enough to handle the full population of another current elementary school, as we've suggested with an eye toward needed consolidation, it could open the door to a lottery for parents who would want to send their children to another city school. It could add room for more pupils from outside the school district to "choice in" from elsewhere, bringing additional revenue into the city once any district parents' requests for slots has been satisfied.
But any shifting of district pupils to the proposed new school — if it ever becomes reality — would even further drive down the enrollment of the city's other four schools. That would give even further credence to the need for consolidating the rest of the district, especially with the growth of the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School and the expectation that Gloucester would still like face an outgoing deficit in school choice numbers.
It's interesting to note that as it examines Gloucester's true need — not just the "want" — for a new West Gloucester elementary school, the Massachusetts School Building Authority will be commissioning the city's new $500,000 feasibility study with the Fuller School building still very much a part of the district.
That's because the School Committee, struggling to find places, officials say, for the city's pre-school and even the district's administrative offices, has still not declared it as surplus. And, as City Councilor and former Mayor Bruce Tobey noted Tuesday night, it now seems clear that it can't. That's because, even if the city does go forward with a new West Parish School, it will likely have to use Fuller to house those pupils while the new facility is being built. That means the city must maintain Fuller as a school building at least through that time frame.
Given that scenario, it's important that this feasibility study indeed look at Fuller as a school — and perhaps as still part of the city's longtime education picture as a facility that could still house the equivalent of two schools in an increasingly shrinking district.
In exploring the idea of a bigger West Parish School, the MSBA cannot miss one obvious question: Gloucester simply does not — and will not — need five elementary buildings. And taxpayers should not have to bear their cost.