Changes May Lie Ahead for Montrose School
District officials are discussing potential changes to the alternative high school, which could take effect as early as the 2012-13 school year.
Once again, the future of Montrose School will be a part of budget discussions by the South Orange-Maplewood School District.
While researching a story on the Maplewood Community Garden located at Montrose School, Patch has learned that the garden has been asked to relocate in light of the fact that the district could move ahead with a plan to shutter the school, an alternative high school for at-risk students, and transfer the 26 students to Columbia High School for the 2012-13 school year.
Garden coordinator Irene Dunsavage said district officials informed her in late October that the school population at Montrose could be moved back to Columbia High School (CHS) for the 2012-13 school year. “Consequently, we do not know whether the space will be available for the garden,” said Dunsavage. Dunsavage said that CHS Principal Dr. Lovie Lilly has expressed support for the garden, and discussions are underway to determine whether it will remain in its current location or possibly be relocated to CHS.
School officials would not confirm any plan to close Montrose.
Denise Giorello-Moczulski, the school’s director said, “As of now there is no definitive plan to transition students back to the high school. When there is one it would be communicated at a board meeting.”
The school is intended to provide an alternate pathway to graduation for students who have trouble thriving in a standard high school environment. There are also a small number of classified special education students in the school.
School Board Member Andrea Wren-Hardin said she has not heard from administrators about a final decision to close the school, but she said that the issue of closing the school as a cost-saving measure is raised every year. “The Montrose facility and program have been looked at during budget planning,” she said. “An analysis was done last year and has been requested by the board again this year.” She said that the issue would be discussed again at the November and December board meetings.
Wren-Hardin noted that the fact that Dr. Lilly has been asked to make a transition plan for the students who are currently at Montrose "shows that if Montrose students need to move back to the CHS building, it will not be spur of the moment as administrators have had this year to prepare a plan."
In the past, the board has weighed various options including leasing the building to a private or charter school, selling it, or bringing in more of the district’s special education students who are currently attending schools out of district.
Board of Education member Mark Gleason told Patch that "while the program for under-credited, overaged students currently run out of the Montrose building has been vital for students who might otherwise fail to get a diploma, the outcomes of the program have not been high enough to warrant the combination of annual operating cost and facilities allocation that the current setup requires, especially in light of other budget pressures."
Gleason felt that "in order to justify the expense and opportunity cost of continuing to own the Montrose location, I would like to see the district find a way to serve more students there. Or to find a way to serve students whose special needs currently require them to be sent out of district at very high expense, so that Montrose becomes an asset enabling us to do more for less. As for the program currently operating in Montrose, my expectation is that administration will develop a way to serve those students in another district facility."
Gleason said that Superintendent Brian Osborne has told the Board of Education that he will make recommendations for maximizing utilization of the Montrose facility as part of his 2012-13 budget proposal.
Maplewood Deputy Mayor and member of the Board of School Estimate Fred Profeta said he has not heard of plans to shut the school down but that he wouldn’t be surprised if that is the decision made. He expressed concern about how the Montrose student population would be integrated back into CHS.
“If the population has to come back to the high school, how will that be dealt with?” Profeta asked. “Will they be separated from the rest of the students or attend at different times? What are the consequences of that?”