Sharing the school closing

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.

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  • CMcQuilken

    “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.”

    Thanks for having the guts to say it out loud.

    I think two things go wrong here. I do find that often elected officials don’t speak up. (Some of them anyway.) I think they are afraid to go out on a limb for fear they won’t get reelected. That’s not good government IMO. The purpose of putting people in office is so they will speak up and do the right thing. The purpose is not to get them elected in the first place so they can focus on getting reelected.

    But I don’t hold the elected officials completely at fault for watching their words and refusing to take a strong position. I think a few of the more misguided residents are also to blame. The utter nonsense that went on last year with the BOE budget was a new shameful low for Ridgefield IMO. I’m told a school mom called an elected official’s place of business and said she would never shop their again because of the elected official’s views on the BOE budget. I think it was a clear attempt to personally punish an elected official for looking out for the taxpayers. Completely unfair and absurdly poor judgment on the part of the person making the phone call IMO. And by the way, you know who told me about the phone call? The woman who made it. I still shake my head.

    So where does that leave us? I feel that some very unpleasant residents bully elected officials, and as a result, some elected officials refuse to give opinions anymore so they can better their chances for reelection – so I guess they can continue to not give opinions for another four years…

    None of this works for me. Elected officials should give opinions, and in this case own the school closing concept. And that handful of cowardly phone-calling residents who try to intimidate others, should grow up. IMO.

  • Mack Reid, CMcQuilken — well said.

    But nothing that many of us haven’t been saying for the past 6-8 yrs or so. So what’s the logical / practical solution? Vote for change, Also something many of us have been saying for the past 6-8 yrs.

    Elections have consequences — DUH (to quote a (in)famous forum denizen.

    Personally I was pleased to see that Ridgefield voter turn out for the national election was 3rd in the state (if I remember right). That’s what democracy is about.

    So how come we can’t muster that kind of interest locally? What happens here effects our lives just as much & one might even argue, even more yet there’s great apathy.

    Consider the great job the Chamber of Commerce is doing. That’s what we need for voting.

    IMO the saddest part of all this is that party caucuses in this town find it painful to attract thoughtful, gutsy volunteers to sit on these boards. And why should they: residents have split alliances.

    Tell me, how does a parent of high school aged children sitting on the BoE combat the notion that his/her decisions reflect less interest in the lower grades? That their decision to close a school isn’t suspect regardless of merit?

    Perhaps the answer lies in how we elect officials. The immediate thought that comes to mind is term limits which would have to be addressed via a charter revision commission.

    Many of you will have valid reasons to object to term limits but try to rise above them momentarily & consider the over all effect on governance in the long term. Would it be more honest? Could it become more reckless? Or will more of it be based in fact and or common sense.

    I don’t think it’s working this way. Too many of the larger issues are not being addressed in a timely manner. School closing is one of them. 8.30g another. Broadening our tax base, the sewer system, Schlumberger, cell towers, taser armed police….

    I think we need to find another way. At least we need to discuss it.

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