School sale going to district meeting

Community School on Center Street in Prospect. –RA ARCHIVE

Community School on Center Street in Prospect. –RA ARCHIVE

REGION 16 — Three weeks after Prospect residents unanimously supported buying the former Community School from Region 16, the fate of the sale now rests in the hands of voters in the region.

A district meeting is set for March 23 at Long River Middle School in Prospect for voters in Region 16, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, to vote on selling the school to the town of Prospect for $873,000. The meeting is from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the school’s gym. Voting is expected to be done by paper ballot.

Community School, located at 12 Center St. in Prospect, was closed at the end of the 2014-15 school year. Prospect officials want the building to use for a variety purposes, including recreational activities and for civic organizations. The school board approved selling the school to Prospect for $873,000 in a controversial decision in October.

The money from the sale, if approved, will be returned to the two towns in the form of a credit on each town’s education payments following the closing date, according to the sales agreement. The money will be divided between the towns based on the student population ratio, which is roughly 60.8 percent Prospect and 39.2 percent Beacon Falls. According to the sales agreement, Prospect will get $530,469.72 while Beacon Falls will get $342,530.28.

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin and school board Chair Sheryl Feducia both described the sale as a win for all parties.

Yamin said the sales price is a good one. He said Prospect gets a facility that the town can use, Beacon Falls will receive a “nice chunk of change,” and the region gets rid of the expense of taking care of the building.

“I think it’s a win-win-win for everyone,” Yamin said.

Feducia echoed Yamin’s sentiments.

“It’s a good, sound business decision,” she said, adding, “This is a win-win for both towns and let’s move forward.”

Prospect Town Council Chairman Tom Galvin encouraged everyone to get acquainted with the facts of the sale and exercise their right to vote.

“I believe this is a fair deal for all parties and a great deal for Prospect,” Galvin said.

Not everyone feels that way.

Beacon Falls officials have vowed to block the sale, if it moves forward, by filing an injunction in court. They contend that the sale price is not fair market value.

Beacon Falls First Selectman Chris Bielik said last week the town’s legal counsel was evaluating all options and officials were still finalizing their position.

The towns and the school board each got an appraisal last year on the school. The appraisals ranged from $1,225,000 to $1,510,000.

The Prospect Town Council originally offered $783,350 for the school. The offer took the average of three appraisals and subtracted $545,000 for repairs to the building.

The school board discussed this offer in an executive session Oct. 14 before voting in public session to set the price at $873,000, which took into consideration some of the repairs needed. The Town Council subsequently agreed to the price and the school board voted Oct. 28 to sell the school to the town for $873,000.

Beacon Falls officials are arguing that the appraisals done last year were “as is” appraisals and took into consideration the state of the building. They feel subtracting money from the sale price for repairs needed to the building forces Beacon Falls to pay to fix a facility the town will no longer be associated with.

A revaluation of property in Prospect was completed last year. According to the property card, the Community School property was appraised at $947,473. Prior to the revaluation, property records listed the appraisal for the land and building at about $4.25 million, though no one has argued it is worth that much nor was any explanation given as to why the previous appraisal was so high. This appraisal was based on the market value of real property at the time of a revaluation in 2011.

The sale came up during Monday’s Beacon Falls Board of Selectmen meeting. The topic of the discussion focused on the district meeting itself.

“We need to openly encourage the residents of Beacon Falls to step forward,” Selectman Michael Krenesky said. “If the sale is going forward I would like to see a huge turnout from Beacon Falls.”

The board also bemoaned the timing of the district meeting.

“I can’t be there and I am furious about the fact that I can’t be there,” Krenesky said. “This is totally inconvenient for everyone to be doing this at 5:30 p.m. in the middle of the week. It’s ridiculous.”

Bielik added, “While it may be convenient for the members of the Board of Education to have that meeting at that time, it’s clearly not in the best interest of getting as wide a response from the voting public as possible.”

Krenesky has suggested that a petition be started to force the vote to a referendum.

As of Tuesday no one had started a petition, according to town officials. Whether a petition could force the vote to a referendum is a question itself.

Yamin said the school board’s legal counsel advised school officials that the district meeting can’t be forced to a referendum through a petition. He referred further questions to Shipman & Goodwin, the legal firm that represents the school board.

Matt Ritter, an attorney with Shipman & Goodwin, said regional school districts and towns are governed by different state statutes. There is specific language pertaining to forcing the annual budget to a referendum through a petition in the statutes, he said. After reviewing the statutes, he said, the firm’s opinion is that there seems to be no language allowing for a district meeting to be petitioned to a referendum.

A Freedom of Information compliant against the Board of Education is also pending. Bielik filed the complaint in November. The complaint argues that the school board violated the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act by failing to fairly apprise the public that discussion and action would be taken regarding setting a sale price to sell Community School at the Oct. 14 meeting.

It was unclear when the Freedom of Information Commission will rule on the matter, though it’s unlikely any ruling would impact the sale of the school.

Luke Marshall contributed to this article.

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