Residents discuss ConVal consolidation article

  • ConVal school board members Linda Quintanilla, of Bennington, and Bernd Foecking, of Dublin, listen to public comments regarding a petitioned warrant article that would allow district officials to shutter schools if they dip below 50 students for two consecutive years on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, February 21, 2018 5:50PM

Residents packed into the ConVal SAU building for a public hearing regarding a warrant article that would give school board members the authority to shutter schools that dip below 50 students for two consecutive years.

The petitioned warrant article has stirred controversy throughout the district since its proposal.

The discussion of reconfiguring or consolidating schools has been happening for some time now. People who are for restructuring the district cite shrinking student enrollment and climbing district budget. Those against it worry about the impact vacant schools would have on small communities and the difference in education in small and large schools.

ConVal’s Superintendent said there was a small-school study completed back in 2012. She said the result of that study was unanimous that consolidation wasn’t what the district wanted to do at the time.

“To use a term that someone I know very well uses, the squeeze wasn’t worth the juice,” Saunders said explaining that the committee found that the savings didn’t seem worth the effort at the time.

Gail Cromwell, who is a select board member in Temple and was on the steering committee back in 2012, said while examining the topic, she discovered that the small schools have a “huge importance to our local towns.”

“If you take away our local schools, then you dramatically alter the very nature of our towns,” Cromwell said. “And I don’t think that’s ever going to be a viable solution.”

She proposed dissolving middle schools and bringing those students back to the small schools.

The comment drew a small round of applause from the people in the audience who were packed into a portion of the meeting room, some on folding chairs and others standing.

Others argued that there are more opportunities in larger schools and that consolidation would provide a more equitable education for students across the district. The point was met with pushback from those who argue that they moved to the area for the small-school environment.

ConVal administrators are in the process of assessing consolidation/ reconfiguration models. They have presented a model that includes two primary elementary schools, one upper elementary school, and one middle/ high school. Initial estimates suggest the model could save the district about $3.35 million while providing universal pre-school and before-and-after school care. Administrators and school board members said the model is only a concept at this time and would require more research in order to understand its broader implications.

Conversations regarding consolidation/ reconfiguration are largely hashed out in strategic planning meetings, which are open to the public. School board member Pierce Rigrod said it will also launch a public visioning process sometime in May to discuss different models.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.