[Editor's Note: The following is an open letter from Region 12 Board of Education members Michelle Gorra and Emily Hibbard to residents of the towns of Bridgewater, Roxbury and Washington.]

Most of the Bridgewater community members of our long-range planning committee chose to leave the process on May 8 by walking out of a meeting en masse.

We do not believe discontinuing dialogue is a constructive way to represent a community.

We have been meeting as a group of more than 60 members, from all three towns, since January, taking on the next phase of the long-range process that began more than a year ago.

The large committee has been divided into four working groups tasked with researching the various options that were put forward to address Goal 3 of our long-range plan.

That goal is to "Solve the problems of rising costs, declining enrollment and inefficient facilities."

The district's current enrollment of 841 students from grades K-12 is projected to drop to 528 by the year 2022. The students currently occupy four buildings.

Our four committees were asked to evaluate the educational, fiscal, logistical, cultural and political implications of our various options.

The options are:

1) Leave everything as it is:

2a) Renovate Shepaug Valley Middle/High School to be a pre-K to grade 12 school;

2b) Build a new pre-K to grade 5 school on the Shepaug campus;

2c) Build a new pre-K to grade 12 school on the Shepaug campus;

3) Keep Burnham School for grades K-5 and renovate Shepaug for everyone else pre-K to grade 12.

The administration is also looking at three other options which include closing Shepaug Valley High School and tuitioning out the high school students, reconfiguring Booth Free School and Burnham to be grades K-2 in one and grades 3-5 in the other, and to create theme or specialty schools.

This has been a very open and collaborative process. All members of the community were welcome to join and every resource that has been produced and used can be found on the region's website.

It has been frustrating at times while trying to interpret our criteria and waiting for cost estimates from architects.

The members who left felt the process was biased partly because more time and financial resources are being spent on the consolidated options.

However, since those options involve construction and new configurations of staff, they have needed the most research.

Those who left also took issue with one of the resources that was produced. They felt there was an error that should be retracted.

However, we believe they are misinterpreting this resource. It is a spreadsheet illustrating the different staffing costs for the K-5 students if they were to be in one building, two buildings or three.

It shows the costs for the years 2013-2023, which are the years for which we have enrollment projections. It is not intended to be an estimate of total actual costs or savings for any of the projects.

It does not contain additional savings from operations and it does not contain construction costs of any of the options. It is merely one piece of a much larger financial picture.

We believe everything in the spreadsheet is accurate.

They felt we should not have highlighted the $23.4 million savings achieved in one school versus three over these 10 years since the building would not yet be built.

While this is true, the years for which the most savings would be realized would be in the last years. So if you go out 10 years from whenever the building were to be built, the staffing savings would most likely be even higher.

We also would not vacate the building at the end of the 10 years, so yearly staffing savings would continue for the life of the building.

This group also took issue with the fact we had not hired someone to study the real estate impact of the various items.

Had they stayed for the meeting they would have learned we are waiting for a proposal and estimate and we anticipated having the study done soon.

Unfortunately, a miscommunication on one of the committees delayed the engagement of the firm, but the committee and the administration have always expressed support for the real estate impact study.

In a letter to the entire committee to explain their decision to leave the process, they made other points regarding tone and priorities.

We understand closing schools is an emotional issue as well an educational and financial issue. Many of our meetings have had heated debate and we all have our own bias, but it is the involvement of all points of view that create well thought out proposals.

Their leaving the process demonstrates their own bias. It would be unfortunate for our community, our region and the process on the whole if their views were not represented.

Michelle Gorra

Board of Education


Emily Hibbard

Board of Education