The Ridgefield Board of Education on Monday discussed the process for inviting representatives from various town boards and commissions to serve on its , which will be charged with determining which elementary school to close by 2014-2015 in light of declining enrollment.
Last month the Board of Education voted 6-3 to proceed with its plan to close a school and to establish the Facilities Committee, which is to include members of the Board of Education, Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance, P&Z Commission, legal counsel, town director of planning, town business manager and the school administration or any combination thereof. The committee will determine by December which school makes the most sense to close based on operational, educational, financial and enrollment factors.
The school administration has estimated that closing one K-5 facility could save the district up to $1 million per year in fixed costs — however there would be costs associated with closing the school and, potentially, reopening it in the future.
Board Chairman Austin Drukker said the Facilities Committee will be researching the feasibility of closing Branchville, Farmingville, Scotland and Veteran's Park elementary schools — but not Barlow Mountain or Ridgebury because of the recent considerable investment in renovations at those schools.
The board hopes to get the committee assembled by the end of July so that it can start working toward making a recommendation by Nov. 1.
Several board members said they wanted the committee's charge to state that it must make a specific recommendation.
"The last thing I want is for them to come back and say 'you can close whatever school you want,'" said Board Member Irene Burgess. "Then it will have all been a waste of time."
Although the board voted on May 29 to form the committee, during Monday's meeting some board members questioned whether it needs to be established.
"If it is ultimately a Board of Education decision [which school to close], then why don't we bring members from [the other boards and commissions], as appropriate, into our meetings to discuss what we should be doing as a whole?" Board Member Amy Shinohara asked.
Board member Richard Steinhart said the board decided to form the committee so that stakeholders from various town boards and commissions — such as Planning & Zoning — could be fully involved in the process and be readily available to provide their expertise.
Drukker added that it is important to get other stakeholders involved because it validates "that this is going to be something that is beneficial to the town." He added that it is common for school boards to appoint members from other boards to such committees for this reason.
However Drukker conceded that "some board and commission members might not want to sit on the committee" because of the "political ramifications… it could be an unpopular decision."
"Nevertheless, we need to get everyone involved," he said, adding that there are many positive aspects to the plan, not the least of which is that it will save the town money.
Some board members expressed concern that with a diverse selection of the stakeholders sitting on the committee, it could be more challenging for it to form a consensus and make a recommendation by November.
"The question is who wants to be on the committee," Drukker said, adding that if no one comes forward, then the Board of Education could still proceed with the decision to close a school.