State's highest court sides with Bridgewater on Region 12 consolidation issue
Supreme Court sides with Bridgewater on consolidation issue
Bridgewater First Selectman Bill Stuart is calling the state Supreme Court ruling in favor of his town's suit to halt elementary school consolidation in Region 12 "a victory for the little guy."
The state Supreme Court ruled that the Region 12 school district cannot hold a referendum on a proposal for a consolidated elementary school for the towns of Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington until the region changes its organizational plan.
The decision is dated Aug. 4 but is available on the judicial Web site.
The Supreme Court's decision reversed a Litchfield County Superior Court judge's ruling that allowed the outcome of a referendum to be determined by a majority vote across the district.
"We conclude that the proposal to consolidate the three separate elementary schools into a single school, thereby eliminating elementary schools in two towns, is not an incidental change to the region school plan," the court found.
By this ruling, a vote would first have to approve changing the school district's regionalization plan, adopted in 1967, which allows each town to have its own elementary school.
Under the Supreme Court ruling, all three towns would have to vote to change the plan. Even Bridgewater, the smallest town, could have veto power.
The region has been mired in debate and controversy for several years over whether to renovate and maintain elementary schools in all three towns or build a consolidated elementary school for the district.
Bridgewater has been staunchly in the corner of maintaining local elementary schools, while Washington has favored a consolidated school.
"This is wonderful," Stuart said when contacted about the ruling. "This upholds our stand that it was a voter's right, and the school board had ignored the state statute that gave that right."
"The plus is that Burnham School will stay right here," Stuart continued. "It shows that a little town, if it believes it's right and steps up to the plate, can make a stand."
"I understand what the ruling is, but I'm not the attorney for the board," Hirschfield said.
"I'm sure the attorney for the board will come before us and tell us what the implications are," he said. "From there, it's up to the board as a whole to decide how it wants to proceed."
Hirschfield said no decision had been made whether to hold a special meeting for the attorney to address the board or if that would happen at a regularly scheduled board meeting.
The next regular meeting of the Region 12 school board is scheduled for Aug. 24 at Shepaug Valley Middle/High School in Washington.
"I want to be clear I'm not speaking for the board," Engel said Saturday, "but it seemed to me that going to a consolidated school from three separate elementary schools was a fundamental change.
"I ran in Roxbury on that platform and on keeping the three primary schools in the towns," he said.
With expired leases on the schools since June 30 and the looming question of a consolidated primary school, the Region 12 board has not taken action to begin repairs. The estimated cost for the work is about $1.8 million.
At the July 20 Region 12 school board meeting, member Valerie Andersen, a Washington resident, pushed to set a firm date for a referendum to ask taxpayers for the money for repairs, but her motion was defeated.
"I hope the attitude changes on the board," Stuart said Saturday. "The region needs to step up to the plate and make the repairs."
More than $60,000 was spent by the Region 12 board as of spring 2008 investigating a site in Roxbury on which to build the proposed consolidated primary school.
In 2007, the board approved paying $18,500 for a one-year option on the property at the corner of Route 199 and Wakelee Road. That option was renewed for $1 in July 2008 but was dropped as of this July, according to Ms. Andersen, the board's treasurer.
Contact Susan Tuz