Wednesday, July 17, 2024
HomeEducationHESLetter to the Editor: Silent Majority Needs To Speak Up

Letter to the Editor: Silent Majority Needs To Speak Up

One year ago, the Regional School District 17 (Haddam-Killingworth) Board of Education voted to close one of the three elementary schools in the District because of declining enrollment numbers. This will come as no surprise to many in the area and across the state, where school closings are common place, including the shoreline where Clinton and Madison are also closing schools. It is a statewide problem, with people and jobs fleeing the state. Connecticut is ranked in the top 5 for population decline, and last in economic recovery in the northeast. The state’s own census data predicts further decline in most towns.

With that backdrop, many towns are making the difficult but financially responsible decision to consolidate schools. In March of 2018, after months and months of studying enrollment, capacities, and population predictions, the BOE of Region 17 developed a consolidation plan to close Haddam Elementary School, while at the same time relocating the entire 4th grade to the current HK Middle School Building. In that transition a new intermediate school program would be established for the 4th and 5th graders entirely separate from the middle school program for 6th-8th grades. The two programs would be co-located in the same building but run independently and the age groups would not interact. The intermediate program enables exciting new opportunities for the 4th graders.

Why the move to close a school? As it currently stands, our three elementary schools are approaching 50-60% capacity. Despite that, the yearly school budget increases to meet the needs of the district. In small towns like Haddam and Killingworth, the school system is by far the largest portion of the town budgets. The closure a school brings both a short- and long-term reduction in education expenditures, while the implementation plan still puts educational excellence at its center.

Following the decision, there has been a growing resistance to the move by a passionate and vocal group of mostly Haddam residents. This seems to be about 50-100 people that have organized, put up signs around town, posted on social media, and become a regular fixture at BOE meetings. They certainly have the right to express their opinion. Unfortunately, what I have seen develop over the past year is more of a mob mentality, employing bullying tactics to try to force their will on an elected Board that represents more than 14,000 people in two towns. They post libelous statements online accusing the Board and Administration of backroom deals and “lining their pockets”. They attend monthly BOE meetings and use catcalling and jeering to interrupt the normal business of the Board. Some of this has even been instigated by elected town leadership from Haddam. A Trooper from the Connecticut State Police has had to become a regular fixture at these meetings in our quiet, peaceful town. The lack of civility is disappointing.

Unfortunately, most of the opinions and analysis presented by this crowd do not seem to have any basis in reality. Some predict that population of Haddam will grow; somehow the village of Haddam will buck the statewide trend. Furthermore, they believe the rest of the residents in Haddam and Killingworth will gladly pass a larger budget to keep their school open and yet still make investments in programming. In reality, the town of Haddam barely passes the yearly budget as it currently is. And finally, the closure of Haddam Elementary School will lead to the financial ruin of the town, when in fact the Board has located a prospective buyer that will bring a possible rental community that will further support the local business base.

It’s time for the other 13,900 residents, the silent majority, to speak up and politely share their opinion with the Board and their respective town leadership. It’s time for the responsible leadership from both towns to speak up and support the implementation plan that the duly elected Board of Education has decided to implement. And finally, it’s time for the open mindedness and civility to return to our towns.

Respectfully,

Todd Blewett
Resident of Killingworth
Parent of 4 HK Graduates

8 COMMENTS

  1. Todd: I’ve known you awhile and our kids were good friends in high school. I understand you want to support your family and schools, as do I and a lot of people concerned about our schools. I’ve been an outspoken supporter of our schools as long as I’ve lived in Haddam, all 17 years.

    A few facts:

    1) It’s not 50-100 people who are concerned about HES closing. In fact, over 1200 signatures have been gathered from Haddam residents on a petition urging the BOE to NOT close HES. The number of signatures on this petition exceeds the number of people who usually vote on an RSD 17 budget! These signatures were provided to the BOE and have been discussed at many BOE meetings, and I’m sorry you weren’t aware of that.

    2) Furthermore, nearly every business owner in Higganum is adamantly against HES closing. They believe the school closing will severely impact their sales and ability to stay afloat. The much beloved owner of Higganum Market has stated at a BOE meeting that if HES closes he’ll likely have to close or sell the Market. This would have a devastating ability on business, property values and Haddam’s ability to support our shared schools.

    3) Both Haddam’s Board of Selectman and Planning and Zoning Commission have submitted letters asking the BOE to delay closing of HES and the educational restructuring for a year pending further opportunities for town input and consideration. As Suzanne Sack, who oversaw the plan for educational restructuring at the BOE said at the last meeting, the opportunity for public input and education was insufficient. Again, the Haddam BOS represents ALL Haddam residents and has officially requested the BOE delay their plans for a year. This year will allow the BOE time to gather the public input and provide education on the plan.

    4) As noted in numerous studies, closing schools has a profound impact on communities and neighborhoods, impacting both the social and economic fabric of communities. For example, this 2018 study by the well respected Hartford Foundation for Public Giving:

    “Risks to Rural Communities: Rural communities that close their local school because of regionalization later experience social disintegration because the school is no longer central to the community In contrast, rural communities that keep their schools open fare better socioeconomically…” (Rodriquez, O., K-12 Regionalization in Connecticut: Pros, Cons and Surprises, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, 2018)

    4) As noted in numerous reports, in 1972 the RSD17 BOE provided the towns of Haddam and Killingworth the right of first refusal on any property previously transferred to the District by the respective towns for land previously given to the school. The minutes of this BOE decision, from September 21, 1972 have been published online, as has a Hartford Courant article referencing them. The BOE MUST follow its own protocols and they failed to in this case. This is a matter of proper process, which the BOE ignored and didn’t follow.

    5) While I would never defend rude or threatening comments from the public (and I’ve seen very little of it), I would be remiss in pointing out the frequent eye rolling, sighs and dismissive attitudes on the part of the BOE not only to the public but towards some of their own members who have questioned or opposed HES closing. I served two terms on our town’s Planning and Zoning Board, and we frequently listened patiently and respectfully to angry residents regarding zoning issues that went on for hours. I’ve also served in boards in other towns and worked for a US Senator during a contentious political time. I’ve honestly never seen a publicly elected board that has been so dismissive not only to public input but towards each other. This has been very upsetting to me and is doing much damage to the reputation of the BOE and ultimately will hurt the school system we both cherish and support.

    In summary you are really misinformed about the 50-100 people who oppose the school closing. The 1200 individual signatures and widespread signs and large turnouts from a politically and demographically diverse group of citizens speaks to this fact, as would any time spent in Haddam talking to our residents. On that score I really urge you and your wife Eileen, who serves on the BOE, to come to Haddam and talk to people to understand the depth of passion we feel about closing a school in the heart of our community. Ultimately the school closing will hurt our town economically and diminish its trust of the BOE, which will harm our ability ability to fund the schools. This will hurt both our communities.

    Sincerely,
    Peter Baird
    Parent of 2 HK students

  2. We should close the killingworth elementary school see as there enrollment is half. better yet close bot killingworth and HES and put the k thru 6 at the middles school. 7 and 8th at burr. 9 thru 12 at the high school, and could use the empty rooms from the old middles school if we needed more space for the high school.

  3. Very well said Mr. Baird!!
    The “silent majority” is a myth. Those 1200 signatures represent many more who share the opinion.

  4. Todd and all who read this. I implore you to go to the RSD 17 website, go to the Board of Ed section and watch the videos of these meetings. You will see the truth of how some of our board members treat both other board members and the audience.

    You will also see how in no way has there ever been a need to have a state trooper on site. The audience has always been respectful at each meeting, the only time you hear those that speak “out of turn” is when a BOE meeting contradicts themselves from previous comments, or when they are being disrespectful to the other BOE members.

    In response to the town leadership, the BOE were the ones that made the recommendation to the Friends of HES to get our town leadership involved. To make sure that our town was willing to back up the thousands of townspeople that have protested to the Restructuring decision. When the town leadership followed through with that recommendation, they are now accused of instigating the “problem”.

    Finally, the townspeople have spent many hours of real research and interviewing professionals in regards to both this restructuring and the effect closing the school will have on the growth of Haddam. We have provided many studies and quotes from these studies and professionals (a professional demographer even spoke at multiple meetings) to the BOE. None of our information has been discussed at any meeting. Even our petition of 1200 signatures has just been put aside.

    So, though I commend you for supporting your family, your information is not researched and I feel is only hearsay and uninformed.

    Please feel free to reach out to our growing group to truly understand the full implications of what has occurred in the last year. We welcome any and all one on one feedback and debate.

    • Sorry, Ed, not only will we not realize the 3% that we are allegedly saving but we are also increasing the school budget by 1.6%. If we’re told by the BOE (as we are) that it is 3% more to stop the restructuring, then we should also see 3% back in our taxes if it goes through.

  5. I too have concerns about the closing of the school.
    While I feel it is sad to see this happening in our community, I have followed the RSD17 budgets as well as future population tables for CT and I understand why they have come to the conclusion they have. It is logical and it makes sense.
    I have lived in Haddam for 13 years and have worked in the school system as a Substitute over the years. During that time I have witnessed the decline in student population. It has been steady, and the numbers tell the truth.
    Another truth is that the economic status of CT is not a positive one, as Mr. Blewett explained. The population is not expected to increase in Haddam or Killingworth. Data produced by the CT State Data Center supporting this conclusion can be found here: https://public.tableau.com/profile/connecticut.state.data.center#!/vizhome/CTSDC2017TownPopulationProjections/Story1?publish=yes
    The projections are shown in graphs and list population by town, and within a town, by age range. If you research Killingworth you will see a steep decline in population going from 6,283 in 2020 to 4,955 in 2040. Haddam is expected to decrease from 8,844 in 2020 to 8,630 in 2040.
    The proof that our student population has been declining cannot be disputed. It is documented in the School budget we receive every year.
    The Friends of HES are claiming we will need to build a new school in the near future because our population is going to grow. I challenge them to provide the data, because so far I have found just the opposite.

Comments are closed.

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