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If North Stonington residents want to keep their community schools, they should approve the $40.5 million renovation project on the ballot Monday.
On May 5, voters handily defeated a $47 million proposal. Now they get to act on a pared-down project.
Some voters will be tempted to vote "no" again and further drive down costs. But further cuts in the construction budget would make it difficult to do the work in a comprehensive fashion, which is the way the town should tackle the job. Instead, necessary repairs would be done piecemeal, and over the long haul this wold cost more, be more disruptive to education and attract far less state aid.
Approve the proposal Monday and North Stonington will tap at least $14.7 million in state reimbursements to offset local costs. State aid could reach as high as about $18 million, depending on how much of the work qualifies for state subsidies.
Both the town's elementary and its middle/high school are badly in need of improvement. Utility systems are outdated, science laboratories are inadequate as are music rooms, roofs and windows leak energy, layouts do not meet contemporary security needs, the schools do not comply with federal laws for access by people with disabilities, and so on.
It's expensive for a small town, with little commercial tax base, to undertake such a project. Over the 25-year repayment period, the bonding will annually add on average 3 mills to the tax rate. That's about $500 more annually for a home valued at $240,000.
The only reasonable alternative is for the town to consider a regional approach to education. Discussed in the past was closing the high school and paying the tuition for students to attend larger schools in surrounding communities. Yet North Stonington residents have consistently rebelled against that idea.
If the townspeople want to keep their schooling local, they have to pay. That means voting yes in Monday's referendum.