Bridgewater and Region 12

Caution should be used as the town studies its educational future

Bridgewater for years has endeavored to maintain its independence within the three-town Region 12 district, even to the point of going to court to assert its voice in the school district's destiny.

Middle and high school students in Washington, Bridgewater and Roxbury attend Shepaug Valley School in Washington, but attempts to consolidate the elementary schools of those three towns has met strong resistance, particularly in Bridgewater and neighboring Roxbury.

The latest attempt, brought to referendum on April 29, was defeated by Bridgewater and Roxbury residents. Though Washington voters approved the consolidation, all three towns must agree for the measure to pass.

That referendum defeat, plus a continuing decline in the district's school-age population, has prompted some in Bridgewater to call for secession from the district.

During an Aug. 13 town meeting, the wide-ranging discussion of the future of education in Bridgewater led to First Selectman Curtis Read inviting residents to join an ad hoc committee to explore options.

While it certainly would be worthwhile to look into all the choices, we caution the committee to tread carefully when it comes to a withdrawal from the district.

Logistically, such a move would be quite complicated and difficult. State approval would be necessary to change or dissolve the district established in the late 1960s.

Regional districts were created to help smaller municipalities share in the cost of educating their children with a common Board of Education, administration and school. In general, that has worked well for more than four decades at Shepaug Valley School, where students have received a fine education from an attentive faculty.

Two Bridgewater residents suggested at last week's town meeting that $3.4 million could be saved by closing the school and paying tuition to send older students to other towns' schools. They said they had derived that figure from an informal study, but much more detail would be required for a reliable cost/benefit analysis.

The future of the elementary schools in the three towns also is a consideration as some significant repairs are needed, perhaps mostly so at Booth Free School in Roxbury.

Bridgewater and the other two towns should also take care to avoid costly "solutions" that ultimately would make the communities too exclusive and out of reach of the very children who grow up there.

What the towns need to do now, acknowledging the discontent evident in the spring vote against elementary school consolidation and a $40 million renovation of Shepaug Valley, is to examine how the district could still work.

A retreat planned, though not yet scheduled, by Region 12 officials -- involving representatives of the three towns -- could be a step in that right direction.

Bridgewater and Roxbury have made it clear they want their voices heard with equal weight to those from the larger Washington.

It has also always been the case residents in the three towns have common associations with their children attending the middle and high school and engaging in sports and other activities.

Working from the baseline of friendship -- and desire for the best education of their children -- a resolution could be found.