To the editor:

The proposed AgSTEM program at Shepaug Valley School is an opportunity the region cannot afford to pass up. It is THE solution to the declining population in our three towns that will not only save the region as a whole, but will provide a much more diverse, vibrant, enriching and comprehensive educational experience for our students.

As a 1988 graduate of Shepaug Valley High School, I am proud our leaders are taking bold steps to preserve the character of these towns, to maintain the viability of Region 12 and are striving to provide an even better educational experience for future students of Region 12 than I received more than 25 years ago.

As a veterinarian who earned a professional degree in the sciences, who has employed AG-STEM students from the Nonnewaug Ag-Science program and who seeks to fill job openings with applicants with the kind of education the Ag-STEM program will provide, I fully support this proposal.

The list of upsides to this plan is a mile long. This proposal will:

• Provide an educational program that will prepare students for undergraduate and graduate programs in the areas where careers are, and will be, in demand.

• Improve the educational offerings for all students, not just the AgSTEM students.

• Maintain and enhance the viability of extra-curricular activities such as sports teams, theater, music.

• Increase diversity by bringing in students from surrounding districts.

• Provide amazing Adult Ed opportunities as the community demands. Current Nonnewaug Adult Ed classes include: Small Engine Maintenance, Fly Fishing, Landscape Design, Cheese Making, Introductory Hydroponics, Web Design, etc.

• Increase the vitality of our towns since 150-200 more student families from out of district will be visiting our towns with opportunities to eat, shop, explore and maybe even relocate to our towns.

• With modest enrollment predictions, the $11.7M price tag will come at ZERO net tax increase over time. It may even a cash flow positive proposition should the program popularity take off like the experts predict.

• Provide much needed renovations to the science labs. These labs were built in 1972 and the renovations will bring them up to state of the art, 21st century standards.

• Improve greatly the campus accessibility, functionality and appearance, including increased parking.

How can we turn down an opportunity with such a long list of positives for our region, individual towns and young people? How can we turn down a project that is expected to cost the region NOTHING in the long run, and possibly turn a profit? That includes $7 million in improvements to programs and infrastructure not related to the AgSTEM program. We have one chance to do the right thing, to do our duty to educate our students in the best way possible and ensure the viability of Region 12. If this proposal is defeated, the state money goes away and this proposal will never come up again. The time is now.

If you honestly believe the state would invest more than $27 million in a project that is designed to fail or if you are set on dissolving the region and sending our students to area school districts thus relinquishing all control over our children’s public education, only then can you choose to vote no on Nov. 10.

However, if you are at all focused on the long-term viability of this region and on improving the educational experience for our students, you MUST vote YES. If you desire to increase the appeal of these towns to young families and to support the economies of our communities, you MUST vote YES. The choice is clear.

Michael Gorra