Sharp divisions separated the Region 12 Board of Education Monday as it decided which referendum question to pass along to voters in the region's three towns.

In a vote of five in favor, two opposed and four abstentions, the board agreed to pass along a report to the Commissioner of Education on a proposal to amend the regionalization plan.

The proposed amendment followed Long Range Planning Committee Option 2b: the proposed closing of the three elementary schools -- Burnham in Bridgwater, Booth Free in Roxbury, and Washington Primary School -- and building a new pre-K-to-grade 5 building on the Shepaug Middle/High School campus along the Washington/Roxbury town line.

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The Board of Education vote on Option 2b:
Five in favor: Tony Bedini; Laird Davis; Michelle Gorra; Valerie Andersen; and Jim Hirschfield;
Two opposed: Michael Sinatra and Emily Hibbard;
Four abstained: Alan Brown; Greg Cava; Fran Caco; and Susan Stumpf.

Renovations to the existing facility would be included.

Once approval is received from the state, a referendum date would be set, tentatively in the fall.

Bridgewater residents in the audience Tuesday were devastated, with many breaking into tears.

"There is an actual reason why we want to have elementary schools in all of our towns," said board member Alan Brown, of Bridgewater.

"They may not be financially delicious but they go beyond the subjective, the economical," Brown continued. "We crazies in Bridgwater believe the emotional, sociological development of our children is important and that is fostered by having small community schools."

The decision by the board was precipitated in part by a statement from the towns' three first selectmen and three boards of finance chairmen.

They had met on June 13 and reviewed options and data presented. Their decision was to recommend Option 2b: a new PreK-5 building on the Shepaug campus with a schedule of the projected costs for the middle high school repairs.

"We felt the high cost of a new K to grade 12 school would be difficult for the towns to bear," said Mark Lyon, Washington first selectman, "and would be difficult for the resident to accept."

"When the boards of finance looked at borrowing capacity of the three towns," he added, "they decided that a large bonding package for a new K through 12 school would affect bonding for other things needed in the towns."

Town officials concluded the full $20 million in repairs to the middle/high school proposed by architect Kaestle Boos did not need to occur all at once, saying they could be parceled out in five-year increments for work done.

This path would bring the projected cost of Option 2b down from $49 million, making it more manageable, explained Superintendent of Schools Pat Cosentino.; 860-355-7322