Advises Shepaug Valley to 'deregionalize'
This message is a call for action.
The Board of Education has scheduled a referendum vote to authorize multimillion dollar expenditures for repairs to the Shepaug Valley Middle/High School.
Heretofore, the board has not acknowledged the declining enrollments of the middle/high school introduce great and serious risk to the investment.
Ten years hence, 2024, when only half the debt would be paid off, enrollment is forecasted to be 273, down from a current enrollment of 492.
Sometime during the next 10 years, events such as unbearable per student costs will cause the middle/high school to shut down, wasting half or more of the original debt.
Demographic forecasts indicate continuing enrollment decline over the next 10 years.
Dr. Peter Prowda, a professional in demographics, has provided the Board of Education a detailed forecast that provides a convincing analysis of the trends.
A copy of that analysis may be found at www.concernedcitizensofbridgewater.com.
Dr. Prowda points out overall declining enrollment over the next five years is "baked in the cake" for Region 12. Children who will populate the primary schools in the next five years are already born and most are living in local households.
An influx of enough students to offset the region's shortfall of 200 to 300 is unrealistic.
For example, the 244 students living in Region 12 who are now attending private schools have no incentive switch into a declining system they have already shunned.
Nor is it likely students from neighboring towns will come to Region 12. There is no surplus of students across the borders; all of the towns around Region 12 are suffering from declining enrollments.
Dr. Prowda has addressed the longer term and comments privately growth of entry-level students beyond five years depends on factors such as the availability of affordable housing for startup families.
At any time in the future, the availability of sufficient affordable housing to support an influx of startup families is unlikely.
When it comes to land usage, Region 12 taxpayers support open space and agriculture-friendly policies that are faithfully enforced by planning and zoning boards.
Taxpayer support for these policies is not apt to change and would prolong a conflict with the affordable housing projects essential for startup families.
An additional impediment to enrollment increases is the dismal economy of the state and the lack of jobs for young professionals, the segment of the population that initiates start up families.
Demographic trends and background economy are beyond our control.
What we can control is the allocation of our educational investments. In this time of great uncertainty, we must seek less risky options than are contemplated by the Board of Education.
The time is nigh for the town's leadership to be forceful with the Board of Education.
Each first selectman should demand the board seriously address less risky options such as tuition-out.
The time is nigh to initiate a committee to dissolve Region 12; existing state statutes stipulate two towns can collaborate for that purpose under rules already defined.
This committee would put into motion drafting a petition to deregionalize. The petition would be approved by the state Department of Education and forwarded to the Legislature, which would approve the dissolution.
The Board of Education will take the taxpayers concerns seriously once this committee is organized and operating.