Ridgefield Board of Ed Continues Discussion on Possible School Closure

During Monday's meeting at the Town Hall Annex, board members continued their discussion of the controversial proposal, which if approved could lead to the closing of one of Ridgefield's six elementary schools by 2015-2016

The Ridgefield Board of Education is preparing a presentation for the Board of Selectmen regarding its proposal to close one elementary school due to declining enrollment.

During Monday's meeting at the Town Hall Annex, board members continued their discussion of the controversial proposal, which if approved could lead to the closing of one of the town's six elementary schools by 2015-2016, for an estimated operational savings of about $1 million per year.

The board-appointed Facilities Committee, which is charged with determining which school to close, recently recommended postponing the decision for one year: The board had initially proposed closing a school as early as 2014-2015, however for scheduling reasons this is no longer being viewed as feasible.

Chairman Austin Drukker said the board would be commissioning a firm to do a redistricting study that would help the Facilites Committee determine which school to close and which neighborhoods would be impacted as a result.

"If we do a [redistricting] study now, we are only going to end up having to do another one later," Drukker said, adding that for this reason it might be prudent for the board to have the study done "down the road... so we don't have to do it twice."

"I'm thinking January 2014," he said.

Enrollment projections will be the main criteria used in determining whether to close a school — and if so, which one. The board voted in May to close a school once enrollment dips below 2,000 students and is projected to stay below that level for 10 years. Currently Ridgefield's enrollment is about 2,200 students — but it has been declining at a faster rate than previously projected for the past several years.

The board has identified three schools which are ideal candidates for closure: Veterans Park, Scotland and Farmingville. The other three schools — Branchville, Ridgebury and Barlow Mountain — were ruled out based on recent renovations as well as their locations. Maximum class size policy is also being considered as part of the proposal.

Board member and Facilities Committee Chair Irene Burgess said there should be no more than 18 months between when the redistricting study is done and the school closing, to ensure that the closing is based on the most current enrollment projections possible.

Part of the district's challenge is not only reacting to declining enrollment but also rectifying lopsided distribution of students across the K-5 schools.

Board member John Paulermo asked if it would be "prudent to address the imbalance between Ridgebury, which has five empty classrooms," and Farmingville, "which is full," in the interim period before a school is closed.

"I think we ought to look at balancing out, if not even in a minor way — like we did with Scotts Ridge and East Ridge [middle schools several years ago]," Paulermo said, adding that this should probably be done next year if it is to be worthwhile.

Burgess said Paulermo was "raising an excellent point," but added that if the district decided to proceed with the idea, she would want assurance that the families who are redistricted wouldn't need to be moved again in a subsequent redistricting after a school closes.

Drukker said the five empty classrooms at Ridgebury in theory have capacity for up to 100 redistricted kids (20 per class). Board member Karen Sulzinsky pointed out that "you couldn't move that many kids and promise that none of them would have to be redistricted again."

Several board members said for this reason it would be more prudent to redistrict "just a handful of kids" in order to balance the inequities between the schools.

With regard the timing of the presentation to the selectmen, Paulermo suggested they do it this spring as part of the budget process, since the board must include enrollment projections in its budget request anyway.

Several board members said it will be just as important to determine how the staff is re-allocated across the five facilities as it is determining which one to close.

Drukker said the board will present "several scenarios" to the selectmen, in terms of which school to close and the potential impact. School officials will also present a cost savings analysis for each scenario.

One alternative the board is expected to present is the concept of repurposing the school to be closed into some sort of a town facility — such as a child care center or recreational facility. This way the facility could more easily be reopened as a school, should the district hit another high water mark for enrollment at a later point in time.

Drukker said the infrastructure added to Barlow and Ridgebury in the recent renovation/expansions was never fully utilized — which is a strong indication that the district may not need to reopen the sixth school for quite some time, possibly not for another "20 or 30 years." He said based on the current trend of declining enrollment and the "sheer number of open classrooms," the board should be able to make a strong case for a school closure.

The board members agreed that they should gather as much information as possible and include it all in the report they present to the Board of Selectmen during the budget process.

For more than two years the board has been debating how to best reconfigure the district to make it more operationally efficient in light of declining enrollment. At the center of the debate is 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.

Many school parents have expressed their displeasure with the plan during past public hearings — some contending that it will backfire and actually cost the town more money should enrollment start increasing again within a few years of the closure, resulting in the need to reopen the facility.

In April the board released the results of an informal town-wide questionaire 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.

Mike Bonheim December 13, 2012 at 03:56 PM
The inanity and poor management that has been the hallmark of this process is literally stunning. How on earth can Irene Burgess say that "there should be no more than 18 months between when the redistricting study is done and the school closing, to ensure that the closing is based on the most current enrollment projections possible?" That is a tacit vote of no confidence on the long term projections of the "experts" hired to analyze the situation. We should instead rush into a decision based on what we know now, before the data changes and that decision proves to be a poor one??
Linda Lavelle December 13, 2012 at 09:01 PM
We are rushing into a decision? What, are you kidding? The Board of Ed has been dilly-dallying over this for at least 2 years, if not 3. Of course parents don't want anything to change, nobody likes change, change is uncomfortable. So let's procrastinate another couple of years, despite expert projected smaller enrollment figures, and continue to operate empty classrooms, pay un-needed teachers, and watch our taxes continue to escalate. Who benefits? Not the kids, for sure, as any enrichment programs get cut to fund this waste.
COSMO P December 14, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Linda you are missing the point here. The BOE just hired a new Assistant to Debra Low. Her salary when all said and dun is north of 200K a year. For what. According to them (BOE) enrollments are tanking and a school closure is in the works. So why not just do without an assistant to the Superintendent? Not happening. The total function of a school system is to hire as many union employees and administrators as possible. With that a closure of a school will guarantee a new school 5 years down the road to house and pamper these municipal employees and have the unions laughing all the way to the bank. They know what they are doing. Remember the 90 Million dollar pink elephant. We have another one in the works with the BOE. Clearly with a school closure and a savings of 1 million dollars is the biggest lie ever perpetrated on a single group of people. The tax payers of this town. So by not hiring another administrator that will cost the tax payers over 200 grand a year is an insult to anyone with common sense. If it is truely a cost issue closing a school why a new administrator?
Mike Bonheim December 14, 2012 at 01:49 AM
On top of that, they claim more like 850k average savings over 10 years. And, with reduced enrollment, we'd need 7 less teachers, which at 70,000:year, is a 490,000 Savings in and of itself. The head of utilities questioned the estimated cost of re opening a school, so that cost will be higher than estimated. They will need additional administrators at higher attended schools, which cuts into supposed savings. Property values are going to be negatively impacted, which is going to reduce tax renevue, which in essence is a hit to these grand "savings." They didn't estimate the simple administrative costs of shuttering a school at all. You can't just lock the door and walk away for 10 years. And when it is time to reopen, there will be significant administrative costs that have also never been discussed. The entire thing is a complete farce. Blind being led by the blinder.
bosco December 14, 2012 at 02:02 AM
I think the real cost 10 years from now will be the $40 million to build a new elementary school. The argument will be made that the shuttered school has peeling paint and a leaky roof and no one paid attention when it was closed so some pipes burst and ... Savings of $850k per year? Ha. You Republicans pushing for closing a school are not thinking ahead. It's going to cost this town tens of millions if you allow the school to close.
sebastian dangerfield December 14, 2012 at 07:15 AM
bosco :you republicans?" On what basis are you claiming that a school will need to be reopened at some point in the near future? The same fear mongering that manipulates people into buying b.s. property at SLB? I think what should happen is , the school parents should all figure out what is best for their kids---and those who are in favor of keeping a school open, pay the extra 1500 dollar per kid it will cost. If you dont think its worth it, then neither do I. And if you think it is worth the money, then you'll be the ones paying the freight. Pretty simple. If the school is closed and forced to reopen, after, lets say 9 years then there is money to pay for the peeling paint. Finding reasons to spend money is never a challenge for democrats. They have a whole arsenal of b.s. on which to draw from. In this case, its a case of a past closing. Bravo. But, one time, when 'democrats' decide to spend money, maybe it's them who should pay for it. Just like what is going on in washington--those guys are for getting all those intolerant people to pay for all the tolerance. How charitable that is!! Watch this 'bosco" I feel sorry for that little girl in the wheelchair. Bosco give her 3900 dollars out of your pocket. Now Im a good person, and if you dont give it, you are a bad person. See how wonderful I am!! The absurdity, is that democrats actually believe their morality. "let others pay for my sense of charity.
COSMO P December 14, 2012 at 10:42 AM
So the 200K for the new administrator is 1/5 the savings of the school closing. But the Democrats want her. Seems to me the democrats want the cake and also eat it. Basically the Democrats want this school closed. The last time we did this it cost us Millions. As i said anyone wanting to close a school is looking down the road for a new school. This is plain and simple. They will not open a closed School. Reason being codes will have to be up-dated and new people hired. By the way the last time i looked the BOE is made up of mostly Democrats or very liberal republicans except one. With that a savings of now estimated at under a million dollars (850 K) it is clear someone is either lying or a scam. I would like someone to explain to me how closing a school will only save 850K. Our school budged is at or around 80 Million dollars and a closed school only represents a million bucks? Tell me another one please.
Mike Bonheim December 14, 2012 at 12:35 PM
The dupposed savings equates to about 25 cents a day per taxpayer. And there is a general consensus among our educators that keeping the schools as is would result in the best educational system for our kids. Smaller classes are the holy grail of educational systems Talk to the realtors in town. Ask what brings people here. One group moves into town above any other - young families. And they come here for one reason above any other - the schools. Doing something that would damage the reputation of our schools would hit your property values far, far more than the supposed 25c a day savings that you'll never actually see anyway. AND - that savings is based on voodoo math by a committee who has no clue what they are doing. We won't save a dime. In the first public hearing when the committee presented results to the public, Irene burgess opened the meeting by saying that when they were tasked with the job of choosing a school to close and estimating savings, she started by going to google and typing in "closing a school." She found a handbook there and that is what they based their deterkinations on. If our town makes decisions based on someone's google search, we're really screwed.
Mike Bonheim December 14, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Sebastian and Cosmo - i'm restraining myself from responding to your inane and vitriolic commentary on what you assume are the opinions of your fellow townspeople. But you are really missing the point here. Get nasty and political in another forum if you want. The reality here is that there will be no savings, all the info and data you've been fed is based on assumptions, poor science, and useless criteria making it questionable at best. In the long run it will cost you more money, since that seems to be all that matters.
paul d. December 14, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Dan Davids December 15, 2012 at 11:45 PM
It is about time the management of Ridgefield starts understand what even the "mention" of a school closure implies. Ridgefield is in competition with Wilton, Darien, Redding, Weston and all other surrounding towns. What are we telling potential buyers of homes in Ridgefield? Of course we will get a decrease in the student base by 2013, it is a self-fufilling prophesy when the BOE is releaseing press releases regading a school closing. You know what also follows? lower home prices and LOWER TAX REVENUES. This whole topic is idiotic, and equivlant to a corporation eliminating a highly profitable line of business. Schools are what makes Ridgefield, to screw with that, is screwing with this town's future. Time to vote out the dummies that are planning up ways to destroy Ridgefield. What's next? Lets rip up the asphalt on Main Street and sell it to a recycling firm.
Mike Bonheim December 16, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Love it. well said. But this week, I'd gladly give up a school if that million dollar savings went to school security.
Dan Davids December 16, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Mike, I agree 100%. How many officers in Newtown were focused on giving out speeding tickets as these events were unfolding. Not that I blame them, or the police force in Newtown,nobody could have dreamed up these events even in their worst nightmare. But these types of events are not longer "one-offs". I personally want to see 1 police officer in each school. Close a school, put police officers in the remaining schools. You have my vote for that.


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