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Column: Let’s get our facts straight on middle school consolidation

Bad facts lead to bad conclusions. A case in point is the “Viewpoint” in Tuesday’s paper by Bess Robblee and Robin Mose on the subject of middle school consolidation.

They wrote that consolidation “would realize very little financial savings.” The Model Study Committee estimated nearly $1.7 million in annual savings. In my book, that’s real money.

They write that SMS principal Dick Dunning is “uncomfortable with student populations at SMS exceeding 500 students.” Actually, Mr. Dunning said that 500 students is the ideal size for a middle school. At its peak, SMS had 610 students. If grades 6-8 are educated at SMS, there would be 468 students in the fall of 2014. If there is no consolidation, the GBS enrollment in the fall of 2014 is projected to be only 257.

They claim that the proposal to close GBS “is coming from a very small number of individuals.” In fact, 58 percent voted in favor of closing GBS last year. At the deliberative session a few weeks ago, an attempt to gut Article 8 was defeated by a majority of those present.

The Selectmen’s Advisory Committee has voted unanimously in support of Article 8.

Their Viewpoint article also suffers from inconsistent and illogical statements. They say in one place that consolidation would increase enrollment at SMS to over 700. A few paragraphs later they admit that total 5-8 enrollment in the fall of 2014 is expected to be just 639 students. (Since Dublin fifth-graders stay at DCS, the total 5-8 middle school enrollment in 2014 would be 626.)

They claim that the cost to insure and maintain an unused GBS will negate the cost savings from consolidation. We already pay to insure and maintain GBS. Closing the school will cause those costs to go down, not up. (By the way, if Article 8 passes, the School Board could decide to move Antrim Elementary School to GBS, and close the elementary school.)

They say that the savings are only 3.5 percent of the overall budget. That is not the relevant number for taxpayers. Part of the ConVal budget is paid for with state and federal funds. Consolidation would cut the taxpayer-funded part of the budget by 5.5 percent.

They claim that the average property owner would save $100 to $150 a year. A 5.5 percent cut in the school tax on a $200,000 house would result in savings between $103 in Antrim to $171 in Peterborough. Over a decade, the owner of a $250,000 home in Peterborough would save more than $2,000.

Finally, Ms. Robblee and Ms. Mose stoop to personal attack. “Those behind Article 8 have little regard for ConVal students.” Gail Cromwell spent eight years on the ConVal School Board. My son, my daughter, and I all attended ConVal schools, and graduated from ConVal High School.

We try to teach our students that in civil society, we should avoid personal attacks and stick to the facts. To which I would add, if you don’t have your facts straight, perhaps you shouldn’t say anything at all.

Mark Fernald lives in Sharon and he, along with Gail Cromwell of Temple, filed the petition to close Great Brook School in Antrim.

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