Region 12 leaders remain upbeat
The last few months of Region 12's 2013-14 school year could have been sunnier for the school district's administration.
Voters resoundingly rejected consolidation of the elementary school grades into a single building on the Shepaug Valley campus during an April 29 referendum of voters in Washington, Bridgewater and Roxbury.
A second defeat was absorbed June 17 when voters rejected funding $8.28 million for renovation and repairs at Shepaug Valley School, the region's middle/high school.
Yet the Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools Pat Cosentino remain undaunted.
"The first referendum had to be held so the board knew people's thoughts on consolidation," Cosentino said Tuesday. "Now we know it isn't wanted by the majority of voters and we can move forward."
The second referendum came at a time when "there was a lot of voter fatigue and backlash from the first referendum," she said.
Cosentino believes the urgency of work needed at Shepaug Valley School wasn't communicated at a time when residents would be receptive.
"I've always felt that a high school is the jewel of any community," Cosentino said. "Shepaug has great aspects to its program. It's a really special place."
"And we have to relay that," she said. "I think the next time the question of funding is put before the voters, it will get a positive response."
Board vice chairman Alan Brown agrees.
The Bridgewater representative faults the school board and administration for concentrating too much on "selling the idea of consolidation" and not enough on relaying how they plan to work together as a team with the region's three towns to see Region 12 not only survives, but thrives.
"We really need to give the public a greater concept of what is needed and why," Brown said. "We are working hard on securing the future of our region."
"Retreats are planned where the board will discuss plans with the towns' selectmen," he added. "Another long range planning committee, likely comprising board members, will be put in place."
Brown said the board is aware of the fatigue much of the region is feeling regarding planning and deciding on the school district's future.
The first step in revitalizing the region arrived Monday when the board slashed out-of-district tuitions, cutting the figure in half.
Tuitions will now be $7,500, starting with the 2014-15 school year.
"Danbury is bursting at the seams. Other districts are looking for solutions," Brown said. "We have to be competitive."
The newly adopted. out-of-district tuition policy was vetted by the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.
It would give the superintendent purview about a final decision on student admission.
This would assure the region is not overwhelmed by an influx of tuition-paying students, a situation that would drive up operating costs.
The policy also states special-needs students could tuition in at the $7,500 cost but any extra requirements for their schooling beyond the basics offered by the region would be at the parent's expense.
"(Board member) Kelly Lott gave a good example from a business perspective," Cosentino said. "It's like airplanes or hotels -- regardless of the rate of occupancy that a flight or hotel has, there is a fixed cost to flying the plane or keeping the hotel open."
Cosentino said the region's "fixed cost" can't be reduced at this point. Bringing in students from out-of-district would bolster the coffer while revitalizing the region.