Troubled by Region 12 planning process
Updated 12:40 am, Wednesday, May 15, 2013
(Editor's Note: The following is an open letter from 17 Bridgewater residents who have been members of the Region 12 long-range planning committee).
After many months of dedicated work, we find we can no longer support Region 12's long-range planning process.
We are concerned consistent misstatements, inaccuracies and general disregard for facts are permeating the discussions and undermining the process.
It appears to us the overwhelming zeal of the administration to promote the consolidation option is now at a point where misstatements and bias are rampant. We believe the process is broken.
Below are some examples of the misstatements we believe are being made.
1) The $23 million savings, claimed by Greg Cava, and reported April 3, 2013 in the Voices newspaper, is off by between $10 and $14 million. We have asked to have this figure retracted and corrected but are meeting resistance from Gary Lord, one of the people who, along with Greg Cava, crafted the document.
If they are not willing to vocally and actively correct a $10 to $14 million mistake, what has become of the process?
On May 6, two weeks after our request, the region recommended a parent volunteer from Washington --- who is not an accountant -- to work with the long-range planning committee to "fix the numbers."
2) Region 12 Board of Education members, and Dr. Cosentino, have stated there are no studies suggesting closing an elementary school impacts property values. We have many.
On May 2, however, Dr. Cosentino reported there are 20 studies but they are inconclusive, because 10 suggest there is an impact, while ten do not. Do these studies, in fact, exist?
Now, at the very end of the process, the Board of Education announced it is engaging a firm, yet to be vetted, to study and analyze the costs associated with closing schools in our towns.
However, this important data will not be available until after the board decides which long-range planning option to send to referendum.
Dr. Cosentino asserted May 6 the board does not need this information prior to making its decision. We disagree and believe this cost should be factored in the same as others.
3) Dr. Cosentino stated at a recent board meeting that the $20 million school repair study done by Kaestle Boos is just "lipstick on a pig."
We maintain this study was a thorough and comprehensive list of needed repairs to the Shepaug school, and her statement was inappropriate and harmful to the reputation of the school.
4) On numerous occasions, we believe Dr. Cosentino has misstated class sizes to augment the argument for consolidation.
5) It appeared to us, after embarking on a four-hour tour of the region's elementary school buildings, the emphasis was on the negative aspects of the buildings. Any positives brought up by the participants were dismissed.
Meanwhile, the local building professionals who participated on the tour seemed to be impressed by the ability of the region to maintain the elementary school buildings.
6) We have asked time and time again why the option that received the most votes on Oct. 24, 2012, in a crowded Shepaug auditorium, is not being examined with the same intent the other options are.
This option was to explore a K-2, 3-5 Burnham/Booth merge. We were told this option would be studied internally. However, we have no data on those findings.
With no internal resources vested into researching this option, we were then told the "status quo" committee could rate this option.
This K-2, 3-5 option, which has public support, has been dismissed repeatedly as only a short-term solution. However, if one does not determine cost savings and take into account voter acceptance, we believe that to be a short-sighted approach.
We are particularly troubled by the refusal to consider all associated costs.
For instance, we believe any costs to the taxpayer, such as the effect on property values, the effect to the towns' grand lists, and the cost to the taxpayers to repurpose unused school buildings, should be included in the analysis. If these buildings were to remain empty, there may be wide-ranging consequences to the character of each town.
We have pushed for positive changes and have advocated for low- or no-cost enrollment initiatives, such as lowering the tuition rate for the Region 12 schools, so parents from surrounding towns can take advantage of our stellar elementary school performance.
We are pleased to have advocated for, and are now beginning to see, the implementation of allowing Region 12 staff's children to attend our schools. We have begun our own initiatives to bring new families into our towns and we will continue to do so.
We do not want to be part of what we see as a biased decision-making process any longer.
We do not want to participate in a process where we believe taxpayers are being deceived. We will continue to advocate for the best interests of our children and the taxpayer.