Region 12 awaits word on Ag-STEM funding
WASHINGTON — School board members spent their first meeting of the academic year discussing what they say could be the district’s best chance to bolster enrollment after another year of decline —
if only legislators would make up their minds about state funding.
Region 12’s Agriscience-STEM academy, a controversial plan to lure out-of-district students to the high school, which now serves children from Washington, Roxbury and Bridgewater, is being debated in Hartford.
Eighty percent of the $29 million project relies on state money, tied to an annual budget that Hartford has been unable to pass for about two months.
“If we didn’t have a project I submit that we’ve got a major problem in this region as to what we’re going to do,” said board member Greg Cava. “You look at declining numbers and you saw — despite strenuous efforts, tremendous efforts especially by the town of Bridgewater — we still have not really made a dent.
“In terms of attracting people to this region, this project is the way this region is going to continue.”
Betting that the state will fund the project, the board has spent some $700,000 on it and approved administrators to spend up to $1.8 million.
The state has said that if the board gets the project started, the district has a better chance of getting state funding, board members said.
But if the state balks on funding — like they did last year around budget time — the district will be left with the bill, which could reach nearly $1 million next month, said School Board Chair Anthony Amato.
“This year is going to be a very pivotal year for the district while we sit waiting for Hartford to declare our future,” he said. “What we do in response to that, either way, is going to be a challenge.”
The district could try to get 80 percent of money it spent so far back through a legal claim that the state pressed the district to get “shovel ready” even though the payback wasn’t certain, said Superintendent Pat Cosentino.
“They do not have to pay, but we could fight them to make us whole,” Cosentino said. “They know we’re spending money. They’ve encouraged us to spend money.”
Cava, who chairs the committee on building Ag-STEM, said the district is facing a hard moment.
“Its not an enviable situation to be bullied by state agencies to press forward on something and then come out and say, ‘Well, of course we’re not going help you,’ ” he said.
“It’s the Animal House defense — you screwed up, you trusted us.”
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