Letter: Proposed Agriscience program a 'risky investment'

To the editor:

The Region 12 Board of Education plans to invest about $40 million in an Agriscience Academy that will take form on the campus of Shepaug Middle/High School in the town of Washington. Shepaug has suffered declining enrollments since the turn of the century and is in deep trouble in terms of high cost of education and declining student’s academic achievement. The current facility was designed to educate about 1,000 students. The current enrollment is about 450 and declining rapidly.

Our Board of Education perceives a new Agriscience Academy is the solution to declining enrollments in Region 12. But the fact is the board is creating another educational venture that will fail.

The student population of Region 12 is insufficient for the contemplated Agriscience Academy. To make up for student deficiency, Region 12 plans to attract students from out-of-region districts stipulated by the state. Almost all of the out-of-region districts slated to send students to Agriscience Academy suffer from declining enrollments. In the long term, the stipulated districts are undependable sources of students.

Decade-long declining enrollments of Region 12 schools are caused by factors traceable to declining economics in Connecticut, in short, lack of jobs for starter families. To a lesser degree, declining enrollment is traceable to competition from private and parochial schools that outperform Shepuag academically. Such competition can be thwarted by improving the student's academic achievement at Shepaug, but experience proves neither the Board of Education nor the school administration is able to affect these improvements.

The sorry state of Shepaug middle/high school is what Agri-Science Academy will be in 10 years or sooner. The factors that corroded Shepaug middle/high school will corrode the Agriscience Academy. For the most part, these factors are state-wide problems and unfixable by the Regional Boards of Education.

Agriscience is a risky investment and must be avoided.

Loy Wilkinson