Rues 'historically fruitless' bid for consolidation
Published 4:51 pm, Wednesday, April 16, 2014
To the Editor:
It's Groundhog Day all over again in Region 12.
As we approach, once again, a vote on closing the elementary schools in Washington, Roxbury and Bridgewater, it is time to torch the straw men and examine the underlying facts.
Some members of the Board of Education have decided to advance a plan without popular support in all three towns, guaranteeing the defeat of the referendum and further dividing the three distinct towns that make up Region 12.
In addition, the BOE is holding much-needed middle/high school repairs hostage by tying them to their doomed agenda. Thankfully, that can be dealt with separately after this vote.
I want to highlight the worst of many flaws in the latest incarnation of the push for consolidation.
Building a consolidated school would increase taxes by 8-12 percent each year for the next 30 years, all while enrollment is declining not only in this region, but across northwestern Connecticut.
Our towns have never bonded even close to this amount of money. Extensive academic research indicates home values decline by roughly 10 percent when a school is shuttered, especially in a well-to-do community.
Therefore there should be real concern the tax base might not even be able to support this poorly thought-out plan.
Regarding the perennial issue of class size and "cost per student," the plan from the BOE's own long-range planning committee that got the most support -- the plan for merging the two schools with the lowest current enrollment numbers -- would address this very problem, yet it was sidelined so a few BOE members could push the historically fruitless consolidation agenda again with a $40 million-plus price tag.
The school merge plan could and should happen by fall 2014.
The consolidation arguments ignore the fact the elementary schools are currently thriving from an educational perspective and recently received $2.3 million worth of infrastructure repairs.
They are equipped with 21st century technology such as Smartboards, Apple computer labs, and Chrome Book computers for the fifth-graders.
Currently more than $330 thousand sits in a designated elementary school repair fund waiting to be used, and $162 thousand more is set to be expended this year.
Yet we're supposed to call these historic schools "decrepit" or "obsolete?"
The subjects of security and air quality are simply baseless scare tactics.
Don O'Leary, director of Region 12 facilities, has had all of the intake, exhaust ductwork and equipment cleaned at each elementary school twice in the last four years. There are no air quality issues.
On Jan. 7, at the Burnham School PTO meeting, Mark Raimo, the regional school resource officer, spoke about security. When referencing the elementary schools, he said "as far as the buildings go, they are great."
We need thriving communities. We shouldn't drive away young families and seniors who try hard to stay here by saddling them with years of higher taxes on a shiny new building that some want but no one needs.
We should utilize assets we already own, not create new ones and increase the number of buildings for which our taxpayers are financially responsible.
After this vote fails, I hope the leaders of all three towns will restore the practice of critical thinking abandoned by most of the BOE and address the issue of declining enrollment with solutions that will work for all three towns.
I look forward to putting this issue of consolidation to rest once and for all. Vote no/no on April 29.
Save Our Schools