Were Bridgewater parents serving on Region 12's long-range planning committee being used as pawns to forward a goal of consolidation?

This was the feeling of 18 parents who resigned May 8 from the committee, according to parents Julie Stuart and Carolan Dwyer.

"Our integrity was on the line," Dwyer said. "We felt we were pawns to a public relations ploy to promote consolidation of the elementary grades into one facility."

The committee, comprising 74 parents, educators and residents, began in January exploring six options to deal with a declining student population in the towns of Washington, Roxbury and Bridgewater, and the cost of running the region's four school facilities.

As cited in their resignation letter, the 18 Bridgewater members found the possibility was being ignored of keeping Burnham School open in their town and Booth Free School in Roxbury open -- with grades K through 5 reconfigured through both schools.

"All the money and time was going to determining how to consolidate on the Shepaug campus," Dwyer said. "Our selectmen are still waiting for figures on the cost of tuitioning high school students out to other districts."

"No one's doing the figures to determine if keeping this region together is worth it," she added.

"We've re-started Save Our Schools," Stuart said.

The original Save Our Schools was the grassroots group that lobbied to halt consolidation of the elementary grades from the region's three towns several years ago.

The group, led by residents of Bridgewater, took its battle at that time to the State Supreme Court and won its case.

"We're not saying save our schools at any cost," Dwyer added. "We're fighting for the best education for the students with the best option for the taxpayers."

Dr. Pat Cosentino, the Superintendent of Schools of Region 12, declined to take a phone call from The Spectrum for a response to the Bridgewater parents' claim.

The superintendent's spokesperson, said Cosentino's comment was "she is disappointed with the parents' decision."

On April 22, the architectural firms Kaestle Boos and S.L.A.M. cooperative presented designs to the Board of Education of three options for consolidation of all grades on the Shepaug campus in Washington.

The plans were drawn at the request of the long-range planning committee.

The plans -- two for pre-K through 12 consolidation in one building and one for a new pre-K through 5 school -- ranged in cost from $72.99 million to $32.24 million.

"The last straw was discovering that the cost savings projected through consolidation are so far off," Stuart said. "We were hoping when we pointed that out, they would get a professional with municipal and schools experience to vet the numbers."

"Also, no consideration is being given to the increase in taxes for 20 years or the decrease in property values with schools closed in our towns," she said. "We just spent millions of dollars repairing and renovating these schools."

A referendum vote is planned for the fall to determine the best course of action. The options put forward for the referendum will be chosen June 17 by the Board of Education.

The vote by residents of each of the three towns -- Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington -- has to pass for any changes to the regional plan.

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322