Wants to put 'distraction of consolidation' to rest
Published 6:18 pm, Wednesday, April 16, 2014
To the Editor:
The value of a local school to a small town is a major factor to consider, but one that most of the Region 12 Long-Range Planning Committee Committee and the majority of the Board of Education relentlessly chose to dismiss.
I was a member of the committee and I sit on the Board of Education, so I'm not passing judgment second-hand here.
The superintendent once tossed the committee a list of links to studies and peer-reviewed articles, telling us half the sources said closing a town's only school was a problem and half said it was fine, so they were inconclusive.
No research necessary. In fact, the committee didn't do any research; it only focused interminably on projected expenses and savings.
The committee had a research budget, but most members didn't want to research anything; they were satisfied with us just arguing among ourselves with pure conjecture.
The board did eventually hire a real estate assessor to determine whether property values suffered when a town's school closed.
When he couldn't find a comparable town anywhere that had closed its school, the majority didn't wonder why no one else had done something that the majority was so determined to convince us to do. They just wrote the research off as inconclusive and therefore nothing that should worry our pretty little heads.
I, however, read everything on the superintendent's list and it wasn't an even split.
All the writers agreed that local schools are vital assets to their towns, towns which in turn play vital roles in the emotional, social and educational development of their youngest students.
They agreed town schools sometimes must close, but they should be abandoned only after everything else has been tried.
But nothing else has been tried in Region 12.
From the list's studies, two hair-raising statements, from no less than the National Rural Education Association: "Local school officials should be wary of merging several smaller elementary schools, at least if the goal is improved performance," and "After a school closure, out-migration, population decline and neighborhood deterioration are set in motion, and support for public education diminishes."
The majority of the committee and the Board of Education ignored all this advice to focus on the money. To save a few percent a year.
When the committee discovered the most money could be saved by closing Shepaug, suddenly other things mattered.
Now, I'm not for closing Shepaug. I'm convinced Shepaug's best days are ahead of us. But when Shepaug was threatened, money was no longer everything.
Why? Because Shepaug is a vital asset to our community. Wait... doesn't that sound familiar?
Since most of us see the non-monetary value of Shepaug, how can any of us ignore the non-monetary value of some of the best elementary schools in Connecticut?
Instead of working together to save what are vital community assets, we've spent the past three years letting people who want to close the elementary schools attempt to convince everyone consolidation is the only solution.
How can we know it's the only solution when we refuse to try anything else?
Vote no/no on April 29 to put the distraction of consolidation away so we can start work on real solutions, solutions that deal with declining enrollment and don't just gamely accept it, that take into account the fact that costs aren't actually rising much when this year's budget is flat, and that appreciate that the three schools are actually technologically up-to-date and aren't inefficient if they're giving the students the best education in the region, the DRG and the state.