What's next for embattled Region 12?
Updated 9:16 am, Monday, May 12, 2014
Voters in Region 12 could well be asked one more time to fund $8.3 million for repairs and renovations to Shepaug Middle/High School.
But addressing just how to educate elementary school children in the region will be considered by a committee of Board of Education members before a proposal would go to voters.
In an April 29 referendum, region voters rejected changes to the regional plan that would have closed the three elementary schools in Bridgwater, Roxbury and Washington and built a consolidated elementary school on the Shepaug campus.
On the same ballot, voters also defeated a proposed $40 million-plus bonding package that would have funded an upgrade 0f Shepaug Valley Middle/High School and the construction of a consolidated elementary school.
The Board of Education decided Monday to sever the original $40 million bonding question, instead taking the consolidated school off the table and returning a request for funding $8.3 million for Shepaug upgrades.
Bob Giesen, the district's director of finance, will contact bond counsel on the question.
A public hearing would then be scheduled, followed by a referendum vote before the end of the present school year.
Monday's meeting was heated as board members often disagreed how to proceed in the wake of the referendum outcome.
"I've talked to Richard Hoffman, who was principal of those schools in the 1970s and 1980s," Brown said. "In 1975, fourth grades were combined and, in the 1982-83 school year, second grades were combined and moved forward until that class graduated from Burnham."
"There was no vote taken to do that," he added.
However, the specter of Region 14's recent court battle about a change to its regional plan being opposed by some residents caused Region 12 board members to balk at Brown's suggestion.
"All we have to do is look to Region 14..." said board member Valerie Andersen of Washington.
"I appreciate the history lesson," said board member Jennifer Pote of Washington. "But the parents of 41 Booth Free students don't want that reconfiguration."
Superintendent of Schools Pat Cosentino recently received a letter from 25 Booth Free School parents asking the board not to use Booth Free for the grades 3-5 and Burnham for grades K-2.
"We do not support this plan," the Booth Free parents letter read. "We supported consolidation because we wanted our children to be in a larger, more vibrant school environment. This school merge plan does not provide this opportunity for our children."
Board members were not the only ones whose tempers flared Monday.
Audience members at the meeting expressed anger about how the issue of consolidation had been handled, how the elementary schools have not been properly maintained and how the Bridgewater group Save Our Schools fought to keep Burnham school open.
"A total of $459,000 may have been approved to elementary school repairs but that money clearly has not been spent on the schools," said Bridgewater First Selectman Curtis Read. "Perhaps that has purposely been done to assure their closing."
"I've never voted against an education budget before," said Elliot Woolwich of Bridgewater. "It hurt to vote no. But having money spent on architect's drawings before the question of consolidation was ever put before the voters put people off. It made it seem like consolidation was a fait accompli."
"You have lost the trust and respect of many Booth Free families sitting here tonight," she added."