Parents Fight Ridgefield Plan To Close School

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Parents filled the Ridgefield Board of Education hearing room to explain how they felt about the possibility of closing one of Ridgefield's six elementary schools.
Parents filled the Ridgefield Board of Education hearing room to explain how they felt about the possibility of closing one of Ridgefield's six elementary schools. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. – Ridgefield parents again challenged a plan to close a school in town, saying the potential savings — about $100 per taxpayer — are not worth it.

“I’m just shocked that we’re having a conversation about $100 per taxpayer,” said Sean Connelly, a parent of children at Scotland Elementary School, one of the schools up for consideration for closure.

“If I had to balance against my daughter’s education and saving a few bucks, I’m going with my daughter’s education,” Marc Petroccio said.  

During the Board of Education meeting Monday night parents and the board heard the Facilities Committee’s findings about school closures, the results of which were not dramatically different from what was said at the public hearing last Tuesday. The top schools remained at the top and both Scotland and Farmingville Elementary Schools remained at the bottom.

"Please don’t close one of our schools," Jessica Meadow said, adding that if the board did decide to close one, that they should have all the information available to them.

The board was met with pleas from parents at each school to not close their school, or any school, citing how difficult it would be for the children to adjust.

Many parents said closing a school is wrong and that it will break the sense of community that comes from "neighborhood schools."

“The decision regarding which schools to close, all six schools should be looked at by an independent third party, not just the two,” said Karen Griffith.

Part of the next step, said board member Michael Raduazzo, is bringing the findings of the committee to the Ridgefield Boards of Selectman and Finance to reaffirm that the projected $1 million in savings is enough. The presentation most likely won’t take place until December.  

Board member Amy Shinohara told the board after the public hearing that it is too early to make a decision on whether or not to close a school.

The discussion ended with the possibility of continuing the discussion and gathering information about closing a school, although no action was taken.

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It may be $100 per taxpayer, but it's also $500 per elementary student (if there is a $1 million annual savings and there are 2,000 students in the elementary school system). So as parents of elementary school children, and as taxpayers, we need to ask ourselves a few questions.

First, would education be worse at five schools than at six? In 2007, there were roughly 2,400 students in the elementary schools, and there were six schools, so an average of 400 students per school. If we drop to 2,000 elementary students, with five schools, that would work out to be 400 students per school. So is there something fundamentally different now than there was in 2007 or so? Bear in mind that many teachers from the closed school would likely be reassigned to other schools.

Second, are the $1 million savings real? I would assume that they are (one less principal, school nurse, other maintenance costs, some facility costs such as lower HVAC, and a few teachers, etc), but they may not be for some reason. I haven't checked the assumptions. There could be things like bus routes that affect the results as well.

Third, assuming that the savings are real, is it fair to ask the collective taxpayers of town to pay $500 per elementary student so the students don't have to go through whatever ordeal there would be in shifting schools from one school in Ridgefield to another. (It wouldn't be just kids from the closed schools that would shift. From a cursory review of the map, I would guess a lot of Barlow kids would have to get shifted to Ridgebury if either SES or FES closes-- Ridgebury has space, and Barlow is the only school district that's really practical to send there). Bear in mind that if kids did shift schools, many of their co-students would as well, so it wouldn't be as jarring as what would happen if a child's family moved to another town. Also bear in mind that even if we don't close a school, there will probably be some zone changes, although they would obviously be much less severe.