Feelings are running high in New Milford concerning the prospective closing of John Pettibone School in June 2015.

Mayor Pat Murphy has come to the defense of the Board of Education's decision to close the nearly 60-year-old facility.

The mayor presented an upbeat picture during Monday's Town Council meeting of the education board's decision.

She stated the closing would benefit both taxpayers and children in the town.

Murphy downplayed the concerns of many parents and other residents about a variety of issues.

She feels it would not be a problem moving sixth grader from Sarah Noble Intermediate School to Schaghticoke Middle School, where the younger children would mix with seventh- and eighth-grade students.

This would be necessitated because the district's third-graders would move to Sarah Noble to accommodate Pettibone's closing.

The town would be left with just two schools, Hill and Plain and Northville, to serve the district's pre-K to second-grade population.

Reading a letter by Schaghticoke principal Dana Ford, Murphy said "Schaghticoke should not be the scapegoat in this debate on reconfiguring grades in schools."

Ford's letter continued to say Schaghticoke does not have the discipline and bullying problems cited by many parents.

Board of Education member David Lawson was one of the four who voted recently against closing Pettibone.

A career educator, he has concerns about sixth-graders being mixed with older middle school students.

"There's not a junior high school in the country that doesn't have a bullying issue," Lawson said. "Many types of bullying are covert and not easily noticed by teachers or administrators. I think they're missing that fact."

Murphy also presented some birth rate statistics, saying "the birth rate is down even from what statisticians predicted."

The mayor pointed to the closing of the birthing center at New Milford Hospital by the Western Connecticut Health Network as another sign that local births are in decline.

Lawson isn't so sure those statistics will become reality.

"No one has a crystal ball to predict the future," Lawson countered. "Many believe that New Milford's future is quite bright and not as gloomy as some town officials do."

Murphy added the town is still "paying off" construction and renovations costs for some of its school buildings and argued keeping "half-filled" schools open would not be cost efficient.

"The Board of Education acted from the heart," Murphy opined. "They want to spend taxpayers' money wisely."

The mayor echoed several Republican town leaders' promises to use revenues from the sale of the Pettibone property for the towns' children.

"Why spend money on capital projects,"she said, "when it can be put toward enhancing curriculum offerings?"

Murphy claimed the projected $635,000 savings per year by closing Pettibone would skyrocket to $13 million in savings as time passed, since capital improvements would not be needed on what she termed a failing, older building.

In the face of Pettibone's closing, Lawson's hope is the town would retain ownership of the building and move the school district's central office, the Youth Agency and the probate court there.

"By doing this, we can get rid of the East Street building, where the central office and the Youth Agency now are," Lawson said. "The 100-year-old building has more maintenance problems than Pettibone does, including a failing foundation."

Lawson also remarked, if in 10 years, a new school would have to be built or a present school would need an addition, the cost would be far greater than the money projected to be saved in closing Pettibone School, or the cost of reopening Pettibone as a school.

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322