Letter: School board rushing referendum

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To the editor,

As almost everyone knows by now, our Region 16 superintendent and Board of Education are attempting to rush a $47 million spending proposal to referendum. To their credit, they did hold a series of meetings to explain the building project and engage an apathetic public; but it appears the suggestions that were offered by residents who did attend were largely ignored. I called Region 16 asking for the minutes of the informational meetings and was told no minutes are available despite much note taking during the sessions.

To the superintendent’s and board’s discredit, they are now trying to rush their proposal through using, in some cases, reprehensible scare tactics such as when Superintendent (James) Agostine suggested we might have a Columbine incident in Beacon Falls if Beacon Falls voters didn’t sign on to this lopsided spending proposal. I’m sure he knows nothing short of airport type security could stop a Columbine incident anywhere. Most of us know by now that Superintendent Agostine is leaving Beacon Falls and won’t be here or accountable when the surprises begin to emerge such as when the mill rates double from what it is currently projected to be.

It took a long time to develop this comprehensive and relatively complicated proposal, but now time is of the essence and the superintendent and board are trying to rush this to vote.

Skeptics would say this is a deliberate tactic which minimizes scrutiny of the proposal because under closer examination it becomes much less appealing. As residents get their arms around this project they begin to ask questions such as why do we need to spend $2 million for new offices at Algonquin when Community school is in near move-in condition save roof repairs and other miscellany. Mayor Chatfield is quoted in the Citizens News stating that “[Community’s] roof needs repair, but the rest of the school underwent a renovation 10 years ago and is in good shape.” He further states, “It’s one of the most sturdy schools in the region”. People ask, Why not fix the roof and let Region 16 staff move into Community school? The $2 million savings could be used to reduce the total cost of the project or to benefit students.

As it stands now, approximately 70 to 75 percent of each tax dollar collected in Beacon Falls and Prospect goes to support Region 16; and of those dollars collected for Region 16, nearly 80 percent goes towards pay and benefits for teachers and support staff. We need to spend our tax dollars more wisely.

Other questions such as why there are two new ball fields included in the proposal for a K-5 school were not satisfactorily answered.  Further, we know our neighbors to the north in Naugatuck have a high school which is going through a complete renovation, our neighbors to the south in Seymour are having a near total renovation at Chatfield School, we are presented with a proposal to renovate Laurel Ledge School, but in Prospect there is a new school being built – despite Mayor Bob telling us Community is one of the most sturdy schools in the region. We were told it was to get all students under one roof, but there are many towns that have multiple elementary schools. We were told that there would be economies of scale, but then it was revealed the only staff that would be reduced would be custodians and cafeteria workers.

It begs the question, Why would the superintendent and the Board of Education skew this project so favorably towards Prospect? Well, it might have something to do with the fact that Prospect outnumbers Beacon Falls voters significantly, and it only takes a simple majority in both towns to get passage. Worse, on the Board of Ed, each Beacon Falls member’s vote only counts for 0.7 votes while Prospect’s votes count for 1.3 votes; thus it’s easier for the superintendent and board to get projects they want passed by structuring it to heavily favor Prospect. In some circles, this is known as the tyranny of the majority and why we have one man, one vote and minority protection – except in Connecticut’s regional school systems.

While the building proposal contains millions of dollars in needless spending and both towns would benefit from sending it back to the drawing board; for those of us who live in Beacon Falls, this building proposal is particularly bad. One has to wonder what our Beacon Falls members on the Board of Education were thinking when they allowed this project to go to referendum unopposed. This building project is inequitable to the point that Beacon Falls board members should have been screaming to the press, but alas, the proposal passed unanimously. Among other duties, they were voted into their positions to protect the interests of Beacon Falls’ students and taxpayers, and it’s not obvious to this writer that they came close to fulfilling that obligation.

It takes time to digest a project of this size. Despite having numerous informational meetings, only now are residents beginning to understand the unnecessary spending, which affects both towns and the grossly unfair treatment of Beacon Falls in this project. According to Prospect’s own Tom Galvin, the chairman of the Prospect Republican Town Committee in a letter to the Prospect Pages, “We’d be getting a new $37 million school and only paying an additional $12 million … the Beacon Falls community will be getting about $8 million in school improvements and a tax increase of about the same $8 million to pay for them.”

I am asking the superintendent and the board to push back this referendum to January to allow more time for discussions. If this is a good proposal, another month won’t matter. And if they refuse, I would urge all residents to vote “no” to send this back to the drawing board to get a better deal for the students and taxpayers of both towns.

Ed Groth

Beacon Falls