Lots of work to be done to gain support for Region 12's facilities game plan
Published 4:25 pm, Wednesday, June 19, 2013
The Region 12 school district faces a major challenge as it seeks to gain support for a facilities game plan acceptable in all three of its towns -- Washington, Bridgewater and Roxbury.
Region 12, like many school districts in the state, is experiencing a significant decline in student enrollment, which translates to under-capacity buildings, increased per-pupil expenditures and higher taxes.
Residents of all three Shepaug Valley towns are aware of the trends and recognize the need to create an economically feasible long-range plan in order for the proud Region 12 district to endure.
Unfortunately, there is far from a consensus as to what that plan should be. In fact, the two sides could hardly be farther apart.
At the heart of the debate is the future of the elementary schools in the three towns -- Washington Primary, Burnham School in Bridgewater and Booth Free School in Roxbury.
There has long been a lobby, centered in Washington, to consolidate the elementary schools into one K-5 facility in Washington, the largest town in the district.
The towns of Roxbury and, especially, Bridgewater have stood firm in opposition to consolidation over the decades.
They have consistently argued they want their young students to be in schools close to home and not have to endure lengthy bus rides.
Residents of the two smaller towns also point out how much the schools are a part of the fabric of life in their communities and they do not want to become the only towns in Connecticut without a school within their borders.
They now also lament the possible closing of the two schools -- Burnham and Booth Free -- that just finished one-two in their 39-school District Resource Group in Mastery Test scores.
The Region 12 regionalization agreement guarantees each town will have its own local school, and a state Supreme Court decision in 2009 buttressed that guarantee by ruling all three towns -- not just a majority of voters in the district -- would have to approve any change.
Given that political reality, it is a bit surprising school officials and the Long Range Planning Group have not given more serious consideration -- or at least paid more lip service -- to alternatives that would keep elementary schools in Bridgewater and Roxbury.
The failure of school officials and the LRPG to sufficiently address options other than consolidation ultimately led to the resignation of 17 Bridgewater members of the planning group and worsened the rift in the Shepaug Valley.
To their credit, Region 12 school officials and the LRPG have spent vast amounts of time weighing multiple options over the months.
On Monday night, the district's Board of Education made its choice to present to the voters at referendum -- Option 2b, which calls for construction of a consolidated pre-K-to-5 school on the Washington campus, discontinued use of the three current elementary schools, and repairs to the existing middle school and high school.
The decision was clearly a compromise choice, one recommended by the first selectmen and finance board chairmen in the district as the option that might have the best chance of passing.
The school board vote was very telling.
Out of 11 members present, only five -- all from Washington -- supported 2b. Two members voted "no," while there were four abstentions.
With such a lack of enthusiasm on the Board of Education itself for the chosen game plan, it is unclear whether the proposal will fly.
It is very clear, however, school officials and proponents of Option 2b have a lot of work to do -- including narrowing the divide in the polarized district -- between now and the as-yet undesignated referendum date.