Everyone wants to save $1 million in operating costs. No one wants to own the closing of a school.
It’s a difficult but necessary decision, grown from years of budget work by the school board, the selectmen and the Board of Finance. Politically, all three boards should shoulder a share of the responsibility — and inevitable parent anger.
It’s embarrassing, the dodging and weaving that’s gone on as officials try to get decisions made without anyone being the school-closing grinch.
The facilities committee, charged with the thankless task of recommending a building to close, chose to cloak its work in a veil of numbers. It assigned point values to various characteristics, creating a veneer of scientific objectivity and giving the outcome a false sense of inevitability. Asked to make a decision, the committee built a deciding machine. No one chose to close this school: It was the formula!
And Tuesday some language in the Board of Education’s long-approved motion to close a school looked as if it might stop the plan in its tracks.
The motion, dating from May, said: “After reviewing the work of the facilities committee, 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.”
Sounds like innocuous boilerplate, but it was the school board’s attempt to share responsibility with sister boards. However, when a parent at Tuesday night’s tri-board meeting said the school board portrayed the closing decision as made under “pressure,” the leaders of the other boards immediately went into denial mode. Pressure? No, no …
Come on. Behind the school closing are years of a painfully achieved consensus that includes taxpayer advocates, many school administrators, majorities of the finance board, the selectmen and the Board of Education — and the editorial page of The Ridgefield Press.
Close a school. Scotland seems the obvious choice. It’s “geographically redundant” — no neighborhood is left without a school. It doesn’t pull the children out of the village. With Barlow next door, it holds promise of re-use for day care, nursery school, special education, or sports operations, or administrative offices. A good offer might entice The Children’s Corner to move across the lot, opening up more rooms at Barlow.
This will be hard. Everyone needs to pull together.