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Tears shed over Moseley Elementary School closure

Date: 3/18/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD -- Parents, teachers, students and administrators struggled to prevent the flow of their tears as the School Committee discussed desperately needed cost cutting measures for fiscal year 2010 (FY10), including the closure of Moseley Elementary School.

"You are not just losing a building, you are losing a caring, nurturing community that goes beyond the academic," Martha Roman, a first grade teacher at Moseley Elementary School, said, pausing several times to compose herself.

Over 75 people attended last week's School Committee meeting in which Superintendent Shirley Alvira presented a proposal to reorganize the district's schools to save money and solve the lease agreement with Westfield State College (WSC).

Moseley students will be split by neighborhood and sent to Southampton Road or Paper Mill Elementary schools, bringing class sizes to 21 students or more in third, fourth and fifth grades.

A tentative $269,649 per year, three-year lease agreement with WSC allows the college access to one-third of Juniper Park Elementary School, requiring fourth and fifth graders and teachers to be moved to Highland Elementary School.

Alvira noted that the previous proposal to send the students to South Middle School was met with harsh criticism from parents due to the age difference between elementary and middle school students.

"Wake up, Westfield!" Alvira said. "We can't deny that we are in a financial crisis. Decisions must be made in the best interests of students."

She noted that the reorganization of Juniper Park yields a personnel savings of approximately $67,000 and closing Moseley will save $545,779.

"I believe that we have to go with the best solution," Linda Smith, fourth grade teacher at Juniper Park, said. "We at Juniper want to stay at Juniper but under the circumstances we understand that [the students] should go to Highland."

School Committee member Mary Beth Ogulewicz Sacco requested input on the reorganization from the elementary school principals, each of which gave their approval. When asked how they plan to absorb the incoming students and personnel, several principals called the transition a matter of creative restructuring of space.

Alvira noted that a proposal to close the administrative building on Ashley Street and move offices to South Middle School for a savings of approximately $220,000 is also being considered.

School Committee member Kevin Sullivan, also chair of the Finance Committee, said that the district's reorganization will yield a savings of about $1.1 million. He added that figure represents only 25 percent of necessary cuts to the FY10 budget, however.

"It's a nice number but it will not get us near our goal." Sullivan said, adding that he's concerned about the effect the offices will have on the safety of South Middle School students.

"We've been going after the best answer [possible for the school district] with fervor, and we won't settle for anything less than the best," Mayor Michael Boulanger, said.