Passions high regarding Pettibone's future
Updated 3:53 pm, Friday, May 30, 2014
The jury is still hearing testimony about the future of John Pettibone School in New Milford.
An emotional discussion about potentially closing the nearly 60-year-old school continued Tuesday.
Two and a half hours of impassioned public comment was followed by a 45-minute discussion by board members.
In the end, no decision was reached and the meeting was recessed until a future date to be determined.
"Any money made from the sale of the property would go into a fund for the Board of Education," Failla promised. "You have enough information to know it's not cost efficient to mothball Pettibone for future use."
"It's at an age where it needs to come down and that property returned to the town," he opined.
Arguments to close the school often rested on dollars and cents. To reports that some $23 million would be saved by closing the school, parent Amy Reguin countered that reliance on that figure was skewed.
"I think that figure went out 10 years," Reguin said. "The yearly savings was $600,000 a year. We don't have any guarantee where the money saved is going to go."
"And I haven't heard what it would cost to build a new school," she added, "when the population increases."
For residents like former mayor Walter Rogg, closing the school is necessary and reasonable.
"This has been coming for a long time," said Rogg, who also served on the town's Board of Finance. "We've got to adjust to move forward. I don't think closing Pettibone would adversely affect the education process."
"There's no economic justification for keeping so much vacant space for schools," he said. "We've got to keep our tax expenditures within bounds. You have a commitment to the taxpayers to spend money wisely."
School enrollment this year is 4,346 students, compared to 4,591 students in 2012-13.
Projections used by the Board of Education show a decline of 11 percent by 2017-18, with the pre-kindergarten to third-grade classes affected the most.
A total enrollment of 617 students for pre-K through third grade is projected for 2020-21.
However, for many, that data is not conclusive.
"But Brookfield decided not to close a school. Ridgefield decided not to close a school," she countered. "They said `We're not there yet' in a News-Times article. We, too, are not there yet."
Aurichio added Ridgefield has since had an "up tick of 124 students, despite Milone & MacBroom's projection of decreases to 2021."
If Pettibone were to be closed, the Board of Education has planned for a reconfiguration of grades.
Pre-K to second grades would attend Hill and Plain and Northville schools; third through fifth grades will be at Sarah Noble; and sixth-graders will move to Schaghticoke Middle School to join the seventh- and eighth-graders.
Many were opposed to having sixth graders with the older student population, although that had been the case for decades before the creation of Sarah Noble Interemdiate in 2000.
"I've taught many different grades," said retired teacher Walter Bayer. "Sixth-graders are elementary school children. They do not belong with seventh- and eighth-graders."
"We lobbied as a town 15 years ago to bring sixth-graders to Sarah Noble," said mom Carol Allison, "and for a good reason."
Board member Angie Chastain argued her three sons were not "magically unique" when they were in sixth grade and would have done well with older students.
"I have a problem with the idea that we have to separate our children by age," said board vice chairman David Littlefield. "We're suppose to be teaching kids to get along in the real world. My daughter's in eighth grade and she's done well at Schaghticoke."
Board member David Lawson sees things differently.
"My kids did very well at Schaghticoke, too," Lawson said. "But we aren't talking about individual instances. I don't think a developmental psychologist would agree that a sixth grader should be in with a seventh- and eighth-grade population."
Another concern for parents is the potential class sizes across the elementary schools.
Falder noted, as a member of the Facilities Committee that recommended Pettibone be closed, a concern for her and others is to keep class size at an 18-student maximum.
"My children are at Hill and Plain," said Adrienne Williams, "and, at the beginning of this year, the nurse was moved to a closet because another classroom was needed."
"There are 19 to 25 children to a classroom there now," she said, "I don't see how closing a school is going to bring class sizes down."