Published June 26. 2014 4:00AM
Preston - Town and school officials are interested in discussing regional issues with neighboring towns, including establishing a middle school with North Stonington, but said no formal talks have been held and no plans have been outlined.
North Stonington Selectman Bob Testa on Tuesday raised the prospect that North Stonington could receive Preston's middle school students on a tuition basis to help fund renovations to the town's school system. Residents rejected a second pared-down version of the school renovation plan Monday.
Preston First Selectman Robert Congdon said the comments likely stemmed from a letter he sent to North Stonington and Ledyard officials after the November 2013 election suggesting the neighboring towns discuss regionalization opportunities in a number of areas. Congdon suggested a possible regional middle school, because both towns have small middle school enrollment.
"I talked to Testa yesterday, and he floated the idea of preschool," Congdon said. "I don't know if that's viable, but we should be talking about how we can do all of these types of things where we increase the quality and reduce costs of education."
Preston had 156 students at the Preston Plains Middle School this past school year. School officials scrapped plans to launch universal preschool for an estimated 40 students after the 2014-15 school budget was cut by $342,000.
Congdon said it's too early to announce a regional solution before the parties have had any meetings on the plans. He said the Preston Board of Education must be contacted at the start.
Preston Board of Education Chairwoman Jan Clancy said Preston school officials sent a letter to North Stonington school officials earlier this year to start discussions, but North Stonington canceled the first meeting because of the pending referendum.
"Nothing official was ever said," Clancy said. "Just the circumstances wouldn't work."
Clancy said no one mentioned preschool before. "That would be a long bus ride for 4-year-olds," she said.
Clancy said the idea of a regional middle school in North Stonington would make more sense if the town closed Wheeler High School, converted the space and sent town high school students to Norwich Free Academy, where Preston students attend high school.
Preston's relationship with NFA dates back to 1857, and the town would not want to give that up. But NFA has expressed interest in accepting North Stonington high school students.
"It wouldn't be practical if they're not going to NFA," Clancy said of sending Preston middle school students to North Stonington.
Preston Superintendent John Welch agreed with Congdon and Clancy that a regional middle school plan should be contingent upon North Stonington closing Wheeler. Preston, he said, would not be interested in ending its high school affiliation with NFA.
"In order for something to work between Preston and North Stonington, North Stonington would need to make a decision to outsource their high school population to either NFA or possibly Stonington," Welch said.