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Committee to Determine Which Ridgefield Elementary School to Close

The Board of Education's vote to establish a facilities committee comes just weeks after Ridgefield parents pleaded during a public hearing to keep all six elementary schools open.

The Ridgefield Board of Education on Tuesday voted 6-3 to establish a facilities committee that will determine due to declining enrollment.

The vote to establish the committee comes just weeks after parents .

The yet-to-be-formed committee has until December 2012 to recommend "the particular school that will be closed, if subsequently the board determines to close a school…" as per a resolution approved by the board. In addition the committee will be tasked with formulating a redistricting plan, based on the school it says should be closed.

However, the Board of Education won't make a final decision whether to close a school until after it reviews the committee's report. That means it likely won't make a decision until next year.

The board also approved a procedure which it will follow in determining whether a school should be be closed. The resolution stipulates that the district's total K-5 student enrollment "must be approximately 2,000 students or fewer," in order for the board to proceed with closing a school (currently the district has about 2,200 students). Furthermore enrollment projections must show that K-5 enrollment will remain under 2,000 students for the next 10 years (recent forecast shows enrollment dipping to 1,618 students by 2018). What's more, no school will be closed sooner than 24 months from the board's approval of the motion on May 29.

The facilities committee 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. The resolution does not state the total number of seats the committee will have.

Interestingly the attorney-reviewed resolution states that the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance "must affirm that a school closure and its net forecasted savings represent an effective and desired means of assuring greater budget efficiency and more efficient use of town resources." Board Chairman Austin Drukker said "if the Board of Selectmen says don't close the school... then we won't close the school." However several board members said they felt decision should be ultimately be up to the Board of Education.

The board's vote to establish the committee reportedly comes after more than two years of debate of how to best reconfigure the district to make it more operationally efficient in light of both declining and shifting enrollment.

With Ridgefield's K-5 enrollment shrinking at a faster rate than forecast, the board, at the urging of the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance, has been exploring whether closing a school facility would reap enough savings to make it worth the hassle. While the district would incur one-time costs associated with redistricting, it would reap savings over time by reducing fixed costs associated with running and maintaining a sixth facility.

The school administration estimates that the cost savings resulting from closing one elementary school could be as high as $1 million per year. Board member Richard Steinhart said if the board had that additional money in its budget each year it would be able to add more programs to the K-5 curriculum.

Steinhart pointed out that most of the Board of Education's budget, this year , is associated with fixed costs over which the board has no control.

"We actually control only about $7 million of it," Steinhart said, "So, if we can get an additional $1 million that we can have control of each year, then that can go a long way toward adding new programs."

Board member Michael Raduazzo however questioned whether any savings realized through redistricting would in fact be at the board's discretion.

"More likely it would be a savings to the town," Raduazzo said. "Closing a school does not guarantee us any amount of money."

Several board members said it would be their hope that the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance would be willing to let some of the savings remain in the school budget for additional K-5 programs.

Some board members said they agreed with school parents who argued during the public hearing that more data needs to be presented to the community so that residents can better understand the justification for closing one school, the possible repercussions, and the alternatives that are being considered, thus the board will be bringing more information to the public.

Meanwhile the district recently released the results of an informal showing that a majority of school parents favor keeping all six elemenatry schools open.

A total of 914 residents, 801 of them school parents, responded to the online survey. Of those, 612 favored leaving the district configured as is; 73 favored an option of redistricting to three neighborhoods each with a K-2 and 3-5 arrangement; and 229 favored closing one school.

Mary Lou Pambianchi May 30, 2012 at 11:28 AM
Why close a school when your ratings were so high. Why not keep the class size down. Stop giving everyone a raise so we can keep the school, and the teachers a job. Why do we always go I. The negative way for everything, only in the positive way for raises for everyone. Let's keep our town in good standings. Economy is already in the down side let's stay up.
Eileen May 30, 2012 at 12:08 PM
Well, here we go folks...open a school, close a school, open a school. I think this town gets a little too hysterical about enrollment numbers and is a little too quick to pull the trigger. Think Scotts Ridge MS. People were just so aghast at the alleged over crowding at East Ridge that we just HAD to build (over build) that shiny new MS on the hill. Well it sits comparatively empty and "we" are still paying for it. Ridgefield needs to get a grip and calm down.
Jim Mullen May 30, 2012 at 12:14 PM
I've heard that Danbury is going to need a new school, so why don't we close one of ours and lease it to Danbury?
Linda Lavelle May 30, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Typical political morass, create a committee and postpone decision-making for another 6 months. What a farce. We have 2008 elementary students and 2000 is the magic number, with projection for 1600 + in 10 years. It's a no-brainer, but God-forbid the taxpayers get a break, financially desperate though they be. Far better to pay for half empty buildings and superfluous teachers/administrators, rather than any improvements to programs. So much for the cry of "Quality Education".......
Linda Lavelle May 30, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Great idea! Please present it to the Board of Ed at their next meeting and send a letter to the Press with your suggestion.
GrammarPolice May 30, 2012 at 04:27 PM
"The K-5 elementary school population of Ridgefield must be approximately 2000 students or fewer." Eeek! Grammar Police here. That should read "less" not "fewer". "Population" is a mass noun or bulk noun, as opposed to individual readily countable items. As such, we should use "less". Would you ever say, "I wish there was fewer clutter on my desk?" No. We say, "I wish there was less clutter on my desk." You could say, "I wish there were fewer books on my desk," because books are readily countable. But "population" is like "clutter", not readily countable. Normally I overlook grammar from the general public, but two things stand out for me here. The wording in question is from the Board Of Education. I expect a higher standard from the Board of Education. In fact, I insist on it. Also, this isn't the first time I've seen grammatical confusion from that particular Board. From the April 12th newspaper, "The town has provided phenomenal education for the children, even with less schools." No. Now they have it backwards. "Schools" are countable. We have six schools. One isn't needed. We hope to have five schools. As such, the sentence should read, "The town has provided phenomenal education for the children, even with fewer schools." Come to think of it, maybe we shouldn't close that sixth school after all....
GrammarPolice May 30, 2012 at 04:30 PM
By the way, the population of the elementary schools is about 2,250. The article above is incorrect when mentioning 2008 students.
Kevin May 30, 2012 at 06:24 PM
If you care about this issue, please follow the Facebook page "Protect Ridgefield Schools" (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Protect-Ridgefield-Schools/195403930499138) and read http://wakeupridgefield.org.
Eileen May 30, 2012 at 07:07 PM
@ Doug What parents have told me. My children are no longer in the school district. They graduated.
t. May 31, 2012 at 10:42 AM
Grammar Police with ADD? The article says "currently the district has about 2,200 students", where did you see 2008? Did you mix it with the year 2018? Oh, and it says "students" not "population", which is countable :)
Bob J May 31, 2012 at 05:56 PM
This is an outstanding idea. It would certainly be cheaper for Danbury than building a new school and would allow us to maintain the school use for a closed school if it ever needs to be re-opened for Ridgefield. There are likely some interesting legal issues....
Bob J May 31, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Yes. Personal attacks. The last resort of the small-minded.
GrammarPolice May 31, 2012 at 07:59 PM
t. The article said 2008 students until I pointed out the number was incorrect. Then the Patch changed it to the correct value of 2200. I have the original memo from the Board Of Education. It says "population" exactly as I stated. t., I feel embarrassed for you.
paul d. May 31, 2012 at 10:01 PM
@Bob J. Chivalrous or hypocritical? Both. @Doug "We do want BOE members to use their brains." Was that part of her platform?

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