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Offer to North Stonington students surprises town, school district

North Stonington — School district and town officials in North Stonington are frustrated they were not consulted on a study unveiled by Stonington's superintendent Thursday night about allowing the town's high school students to attend Stonington High School.  

The study comes as the town's ad hoc school building committee had begun finalizing their plans to renovate all three of the district's schools and forward them to the board of education and a referendum in May.

Chair of the Board of Education Bob Carlson said he would be preparing a Freedom of Information request of information related to the offer from the Stonington Board of Education and Superintendent.

"We want to know how it came about, and I'd like to find out why we weren't notitfied of it," Carlson said.

Similiarly, Superintendent of Schools Peter Nero, who said he only recently heard about the offer from Stonington schools, said he would be consulting with the state superintendents' association about the offer, which he described as an "ethical breach."

"I'm so disappointed in the unprofessional manner that this has been handled," Nero said. "(There was) not even a phone call or conversation until the day before."

Stonington Board of Education Chairman Frank Todisco directed Superintendent of Stonington Schools Van Riley to prepare the preliminary feasibility study over the past month and a half, and cited requests from residents in both Stonington and North Stonington as the catalyst.

Riley said the study showed both "financial and educational benefits" to allowing North Stonington high school students to attend.

The study was not an offer and there was no further direction from the Stonington Board of Education. 

However, Riley said the cost high school students in North Stonington was "a lot more than we're spending" and might make North Stonington residents interested in regionalization.

Questions remain about where the middle school students would go, what the tuition rate would be and the costs of transportation remain.

First Selectman Shawn Murphy said while the town was open to discussions, there was not enough information for him to develop an opinion on the offer, which he contrasted with the school building project. That has been presented to the public at several meetings of the tri-boards of education, finance and selectmen.

"People have been working outside of the meetings that we've had to discuss the project; no one has ever had the courtesy to bring this to the committees, either the ad hoc (school building committee), tri-board or individual meetings of selectmen," Murphy said.

The building project to renovate North Stonington schools is estimated to cost $38.17 million, which will cost the town $21.21 million after the state's reimbursement.

North Stonington's board of education produced a feasibility study in 2011 that looked at regionalization with several area schools.

Carlson pointed to the decision following the study not to pursue regionalization as evidence that the town already had considered and rejected regionalization.

He said the opportunities that small schools provide for students to make sports teams and take on roles in extracurriculur activities are the "intangible part of the high school experience" that must be considered along with the fiscal side.

"You have to really look at both sides of the coin," Carlson said.

n.lynch@theday.com

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