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Ridgefield School Board To Examine 5 Options For Declining Enrollment

Karen Baldwin
Karen Baldwin Photo Credit: Facebook

RIDGEFIELD, Conn. — The Ridgefield Board of Education is wrestling with five options for how the district will deal with the projected declining enrollment in the town's schools.

A meeting will be held on the topic Monday, Jan. 9, at the 7:30 p.m. in the Scotts Ridge Middle School Auditorium at 750 North Salem Road. The agenda is posted online here .

At the meeting, the demographers of the consulting firm of Milone & MacBroom will present the next level of its capacity study research on five options on the best use of town's school buildings with the projected decline in the number of students in town.

This research, which began last July, resulted in a 10-year enrollment projection report, a capacity study, a combined enrollment projection/capacity study, and a report on possibly changing the school system's current grade division in buildings of K-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

At the Dec. 9 meeting of the Board of Education, five options were chosen for a deeper review. The options show the greatest flexibility for dealing with the projected underutilization of the middle school facilities, the school board said.

"At the conclusion of last spring’s budget season, there was a strong belief in the community that because of the declining enrollment in Ridgefield there was a possibility and reality that a school could be closed and effectuate savings and thereby reduce the burden to taxpayers," said Ridgefield Superintendent Karen Baldwin.

"This was based on prior discussions between the Board of Education and the Board of Finance that stated that if K-5 enrollment goes below 2,000, then a school should be closed," she said. "When our budget passed by only 16 votes, it became very clear to me and the board that we needed to revisit this and vet it in a deep thoughtful way."

But Baldwin said any change must also take into account the needs of students.

“Not only would a school closing or restructuring need to create financial and operational efficiencies, but it should also meet the needs of student learning for our students graduating in 2026 and beyond,” she said.

The study examined all the school facilities and how each is used to provide the essential 21st-century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity, the school board said. It takes into account square footage parameters, contemporary instructional arrangements, specialized programs such as RISE, the special education program, and the full context of each school’s unique setting and program offerings.

“The BOE have to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and they also have to make sure the decisions they make will advance education outcomes for Ridgefield’s students and that is how the capacity study helps to serve this,” Baldwin said.

On Monday, the Board will discuss the scenarios presented by Milone & MacBroom. At the conclusion of the meeting the board may ask that the administration engage in more research into the effects on transportation, program offerings, and overall operations.

The timeline for decision-making is fluid and depends on many factors, the board said.

If the Board of Education has interest in pocket redistricting, changing feeding patterns to the middle schools, or a reconfiguration that includes restructuring or closing a school, the board will implement a process for public input and then go back to Milone & MacBroom to fine-tune any proposed change, the board said.

This process would take three to 15 months. A pocket redistricting could be implemented as early as next year if deemed viable. A reconfiguration of grade levels and the closing of a school would take more time and most likely not take place until 2019-20, the board said.

“As the discussions move forward, it is important to keep in mind that while K-5 enrollment is declining, is is not declining as significantly as ever projected,” Baldwin said. For example, in 2009, the 10-year enrollment projections predicted that in 2016-17 the Ridgefield school enrollment in K-5 would be 1,576 students.

But the current enrollment is much higher at 1,986, the board said. This 410 difference is equivalent to an elementary school.

Visit www.ridgefield.org to see the reports on the schools website.

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