A bit more unity with Stonington middle school merger
Stonington has long grappled with its divisions. It is a collection of villages whose residents are often fiercely loyal to their home village, but feel little cross-town camaraderie. Exacerbating the divisions is the fact that income levels in Pawcatuck tend to be lower than those in Mystic or Stonington Borough, leaving residents in the town’s eastern-most village sometimes feeling slighted when it comes to municipal services and programs.
Nowhere is this divisiveness more apparent than in the town’s public school system, where for years a perception has persisted that gaps exist in educational quality and programming between the eastern and western — that is, the Pawcatuck and Mystic — sides of town.
Earlier this month, the Board of Education made a commonsense decision; one that declining school enrollment forced its hand to make. Despite the fact that enrollment numbers left the board with few good choices, its decision that beginning in the fall of 2019 all the town’s middle schoolers will attend classes in a single building, could be a huge leap toward ending cross-town rivalry. While putting an end to long-simmering divisiveness might be reason enough to hail this decision as a sound one, the consolidation also means that beginning in grade 6, all Stonington students will have the same educational, recreational, athletic and extracurricular opportunities. The students will be under the leadership of a single administration, with a single group of teachers and staff members. They all will share the same facility – the building now known as Mystic Middle School, which the school board will rename after the two existing middle schools consolidate.
All Stonington students already attend high school together, but students form alliances by ninth grade and bringing students together at a younger age will help facilitate unity.
While the best interests of all the town’s students is the prime reason to congratulate the school board for moving forward with consolidation, there also are plenty of other benefits in middle school consolidation for taxpayers. There will be an estimated $800,000 in cost savings attached to the consolidation in the first year because the number of administrative, custodial and clerical positions will be reduced. The number of school buildings overall will be reduced from seven to five, meaning less money needed for capital projects and maintenance.
The town currently is renovating West Vine and Deans Mill elementary schools, which will allow for the elimination of the third elementary school now operating at the West Broad Street School. Once all middle school students move to a single building, the system’s central office operations will relocate to the former Pawcatuck Middle School. This shuffling will result in two buildings being turned over to the town – the Old Mystic School that currently houses the system’s central administrative offices; along with the historic West Broad Street School in downtown Pawcatuck.
Having empty surplus buildings is the one negative outgrowth of the middle school consolidation and administrative shuffle. Too many derelict, empty eyesores already dot the landscape in most of the towns in the region, including in Stonington. Additionally, the West Broad Street School is a much loved downtown Pawcatuck landmark located in the middle of a densely populated residential neighborhood, a location where a vacant century-old building could devalue nearby properties and become a target for vandals.
First Selectman Rob Simmons promises West Broad will not be sold and will be put to good use. We urge Stonington’s officials to remember and make good on this promise in 2019. Leaving West Broad empty and deteriorating would only reinforce Pawcatuck residents’ long-held perception they are the town’s poor cousins, even as the middle school consolidation begins to build a united future for Stonington.
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