Committees to focus on reopening Shelton schools created

The Shelton Board of Education offices.

The Shelton Board of Education offices.

Contributed photo

SHELTON — City, school and emergency management officials are beginning preparations to handle the significant cost increase and expected disruption associated with reopening schools this fall.

Interim Superintendent Beth Smith told the Board of Education Wednesday that the Reopen Shelton Schools Committees will focus on all possibilities — from cost to facilities usage to maintenance — coming from opening buildings under not-yet-determined state mandates.

“If we wait, it will be too late,” said Smith, adding that she expects to receive the state mandates for public school reopening in some three weeks.

“The expenditures will be astronomical,” added Smith, who said she is on regular conference calls with the governor’s office receiving updates on what the state will allow for a fall school opening. Some estimates have school reopening costs at more than $1 million, depending on the course followed by each district.

Smith said each school will have to be cleaned and sanitized multiple times per day — made difficult in the district because it eliminated a custodial position in the recent budget cuts. Schools could be operating under a hybrid model, with some students returning to school, others distance learning.

Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines could call for only 12 to 13 students on each bus, meaning a normal bus run would take four runs to complete, said Smith, and that would mean staggered school start times for students.

“Costs for materials for maintenance is going to increase significantly, whether we open in the fall, shortly after the fall begins or in winter. Cleaning is going to be paramount,” said Smith.

The Board of Education completed its budget paring Wednesday with an unexpected $200,000 available; some members wanted the money set aside for coronavirus-related expenses. The school district will also be receiving some $400,000 as part of the CARES Act. Smith said that money would be used primarily for technology purchases.

“We need more devices in kids’ hands,” said Smith. “Personally, I do not believe once we’re back at school that school will be what it was prior to March 13. I do not see that happening.”

Smith said there will be an executive committee made up of herself, Assistant Superintendent Ken Saranich, Human Resources Director Carole Pannozzo, school Finance Director Rick Belden, Director of Maintenance and Facilities John Calhoun, school Head of Security Ben Trabka, head nurse Adrianna Collins, Shelton schools medical advisor Dr. Domenic Casablanca, Naugatuck Valley Health District Director Jessica Stalmaszek, city Director of Public Safety and Emergency Management Mike Maglione, EMS Director of Operations Joe Laucella and Board of Education Chair Kathy Yolish.

The executive committee will hold its first meeting next week.

“The purpose will be to review the guidelines on re-opening schools that will be given to districts from the state and put a plan together for Shelton schools in the best interest of staff, students, parents and the community,” said Smith.

With six feet needed between desks and social distancing among students required, Smith said every scenario must be explored, from morning and afternoon sessions to placing elementary and Perry Hill School students at the high school, allowing the younger students more room while high school students would be distance learning.

“Anything and everything must be on the table,” said Smith.

Smith said advisory committees of students, parents, bargaining unions, Board of Education and community members will be formed to provide feedback to the executive committee. Building principals will recommend their respective student and parent representatives, according to Smith, and bargaining union leadership will select their representative.

Yolish is selecting the Board of Education members, and the executive committee will determine the community members, she said.

Janice Simonetti, interim supervisor of special education, will serve as a special adviser to the executive committee, said Smith, to ensure the needs of students with disabilities are being accommodated.