North Stonington board divides on Wheeler High School endorsement letter; talks to continue

North Stonington - The town's Board of Education will continue to consider the "school of choice" option after a motion to keep students at Wheeler High School failed at Wednesday's meeting.

The board vote was split 4 to 4 after a motion was made to send a letter to the Board of Selectmen stating that, upon review of data and information, the school board had determined that "the best educational opportunities for our students should continue to take place at Wheeler High School."

Board members Darren Robert, Walt Mathwich, Crystal Dame and Dave McCord voted in favor of sending the letter. Members Bob Testa, Chris Hundt, Ed Scarchili and Phil Mendolia voted against the motion.

Most of the 50 or so people in the gymatorium's music room for the highly anticipated vote applauded when the letter and motion were read aloud.

But their enthusiasm turned sour after the vote, when a large number of the crowd walked out of the room, many groaning and one man complaining that the board would "never progress."

If passed, the vote would have effectively ended discussion on the feasibility study, a comprehensive $10,000 study by Joe Townsley of the Capitol Region Education Council. That study looked at alternative school options for Wheeler's 220-some high school students.

The elementary and middle schools would remain open even if the high school were to close. The middle and high schools share the same building.

The feasibility study asked nine schools within a 25-mile radius if they would take Wheeler students if the school closed. It also examined educational opportunities for the students as well as tuition, transportation and unemployment costs for laid-off teachers should North Stonington send high schoolers to another school.

Wednesday's tied vote meant the board will continue to review the issue.

Testa - who has said repeatedly that money was not and should not be an issue - expressed concern that the financial data released in the feasibility report was inaccurate and that the inaccurate information may have swayed people to vote Wednesday to stop exploring alternatives to the current high school setup.

The study has projected an annual savings of between $20,000 and $400,000 if Wheeler High School were to close.

"I don't think we did a service to the community with what went on with this study," Testa said. "When you spend taxpayer money for a product, it should be accurate."

The board did not set a future date to continue to discuss the issue.

s.goldstein@theday.com

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