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Bridgewater, Hebron to vote on school withdrawal study

BRIDGEWATER — Residents of Bridgewater and Hebron will decide this week whether or not to study withdrawing from the Newfound Area School District, an idea that is supported by selectmen and town officials and many concerned residents in both towns who want local control of their schools.

Article 5 on the Bridgewater warrant and Article 6 on the Hebron warrant ask for a study of the feasibility and suitability of the withdrawal of Hebron and Bridgewater from the cooperative district.

If approved, the study would be conducted by a committee with at least one member of the school board from each town, one selectman from each town, and other members that may be appointed by the committee. The committee would report its findings to the state’s Board of Education within 180 days after the date of formation. The article stipulates that there would be no cost for the study.

Both towns have pursued this issue for several years. In late 2012, after residents of both towns and residents of Danbury raised withdrawal concerns and requests, the school board commissioned a seven-month study to consider a K-8 system for the whole district.

When Superintendent Stacy Buckley came to the district on July 1, it was decided to turn the question over to her. Buckley looked at the seven-town district and the capacity of its six schools. Among the possibilities she looked at would be converting all district elementary schools to K-8s, K-6s, or returning to a K-4, grades 5-8 and grades 9-12 structure district-wide.

But she and the board recommended that the district stay together in its current structure for now; if school enrollments continue to decrease — an issue troubling the board and residents — the system could be looked at for change again, she said. After the study was complete, the Danbury Board of Selectmen decided that while it was feasible to withdraw, it was not suitable.

One of the most vocal proponents of the withdrawal study is Bridgewater Selectman Terry Murphy, who says, “people have to remember we are only asking for a study.

“Parents wanted to change, but that proposal failed. Not because of any major educational reason, but due to a ’one size fits all’ mentality. We all change or no one changes. This approach in a cooperative school district is, in my opinion, its major flaw,” Murphy said.

The Bridgewater-Hebron Village District, which was formed in 1998, owns the K-5 Bridgewater-Hebron Village School building, furnishings and grounds. The school was built to accommodate up to a K-8 configuration and opened its doors in the fall of 2000.

It could be opened as a K-8, study proponents say.

“Possible options could be to form a smaller local school district within the larger Newfound Area School District. That board could be comprised of elected members from the towns of Hebron and Bridgewater. (The village school) might be a K-6 or a K-8,” said Derry Riddle, a member of the Hebron Village District Board.

Another scenario might involve a voucher system, giving parents the choice of schools their students would attend, Riddle said.

“Withdrawal is only one option of many available,” said Patrick Moriarty, a Hebron selectman. “Our school has room to expand and add more grades to a building that is newer and in excellent condition.”


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