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Stonington interested in bringing Wheeler students to its high school

Stonington — The Stonington Board of Education unveiled a plan Thursday night that would allow Wheeler High School students to attend Stonington High School.  

The offer gives North Stonington residents an option of renovating their high school.

It also comes about one month before North Stonington residents are expected to vote on a $38 million project to renovate Wheeler high and middle schools and North Stonington elementary schools.

North Stonington residents already have rejected two previous proposals of $47 million and $40 million to upgrade the schools.

Stonington, which is embarking on a $69 million project to renovate and expand Deans Mill and West Vine Street elementary schools while closing West Broad Street School, is not offering to house North Stonington elementary and middle school students.

With enrollments expected to decline in coming years, Stonington officials are looking to fill space at the high school. It is a situation that faces towns and cities across the state who are now looking to market their schools to potential students from other communities.

Stonington Board of Education Chairman Frank Todisco told the board that over the past 45 days both Stonington and North Stonington residents had reached out to him about opening up Stonington High School to the approximately 200 students who attend Wheeler.

While he said it is not his goal to interfere with the inner workings of North Stonington, he said that as board chairman he has the responsibility to bring the idea to the board.

He said that in light of the looming state budget deficit and declining enrollments, “we have a responsibility to the residents of this town to explore this option.”

Todisco said he asked Superintendent of Schools Van Riley to put together a preliminary feasibility study that looked at the idea of accommodating Wheeler High School students at Stonington High School.

The introduction to the study states: “The decision to move all high school students from North Stonington and experience the loss of a local high school would be a difficult decision for the North Stonington community. However, there are financial benefits to both towns and educational benefits to the students of both communities with this option.”

Riley’s study states that Stonington High School could house students from both towns without the need for additional classrooms.

It states that the addition of Wheeler students would mean expanded course offerings, sports and extracurricular activities for students in both schools.

Riley’s study also calls for a full-time police officer at the school.

The study does not include cost estimates or any other financial details.

The two towns would have to agree on items such as tuition payments for Wheeler students, transportation, out-of-district special education costs and future facility repairs.

Riley’s study said that if the two towns can reach agreement, the Wheeler students could begin attending Stonington High School as early as this fall.

In 2014, North Stonington officials said they were not interested in the idea and there have been no discussions since.

The Stonington school board agreed Thursday night to discuss the study at its April meeting.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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