Day editorial did a disservice, support North Stonington school project
The Day’s Wednesday editorial, “North Stonington can make the wiser move,” failed to recognize the full scope of the planned school project.
It is correct that the town will be responsible for paying approximately $21.6 million on the $38.5 million project, but the editorial does not recognize that it bring all of our schools — elementary, middle and high — up to code and prepared to provide a modernized learning environment. The plan also fixes all code, environmental, security, and ADA (disability accessibility) issues, satisfying accreditation, environmental and access requirements.
Our per pupil expenditure is $15,871. Out of the 33 districts in our reference group, we rank seventh in affordability — seventh! The two independent feasibility studies completed 2010 at the Board of Education’s direction, which looked at sending our kids out of district, concluded there would be no substantial savings to send kids to area schools since we would have to pay to send the students. Current data backs this up.
It is a fact that looking at this modernization process has taken 12 years and that through this process nearly every alternative has been looked at from regionalization, to partial builds, to piecemeal approaches, and even a last-minute effort prior to the vote in 2016 to utilize space at Foxwoods. Many people have differing opinions on the direction of the school and this is not unique to North Stonington. Most districts these days are fighting for education dollars and having to justify education expense in general.
Regionalization could be a fantastic idea. It presents many positives in many communities around the country. Perhaps if Connecticut told all towns and cities they must regionalize and gave us the tools to do so it would work out, but there would be great cost and infrastructure necessary. Frankly, most communities aren’t set up for this to work out as beautifully as it sounds.
Should North Stonington had wanted to regionalize, it should have taken place immediately following the feasibility studies done in 2010.
Our schools are outstanding, recognized by the state as “schools of distinction.” Our students are accepted at some of the best colleges and universities. Since 2010, the town’s fiscal status has continued to improve with debt reduction and reserve accumulation. It is the right time for us to do this project.
This project, approved in May 2016, has received the best state reimbursement that we could have hoped for, a 46.07 percent rate on both of our school projects. In addition, we recently were awarded our space standard waiver, which grants us an additional $1.6 million we had not counted on, further reducing the cost of this project to the townspeople.
The roof project at the existing middle/high school, where the school board will be re-located, is eligible at 23.04 percent because all roof projects are eligible at half of your full eligible reimbursement rate.
The project interest rate is locked in at the 2016 USDA interest rate of 2.75 percent. It is estimated that a 2-mill tax increase can satisfy the project’s amortization schedule for a 30 year term. Currently 1 mill of the 2 mill proposed has already been adopted in our fiscal year 2017-2018 budget.
The Day editorial team and the small group of residents who have brought this back up for discussion may not realize this issue stretches far beyond education of our students. It affects businesses in the community and those thinking of coming here. It weighs on folks considering North Stonington as a place to plant their roots.
Thursday night residents will come together in an old-fashion town meeting to discuss this issue once again and set a referendum date to vote on it. Not only is the project put forth the best for students, but it appears after thousands of hours and hundreds of meetings to be the most affordable option.
Those truly interested in being a part of the change in North Stonington should read the meeting minutes if they can’t go, watch the videos we took the time to record, talk to one of the many leaders of the boards in town who are actually responsible for our course.
Do not rely on hearsay or conspiracy theories. Know that if you vote this project down we stand to lose millions of dollars in money already spent and matching state reimbursement which our state Rep. Diana Urban and Sen. Heather Somers agreed will likely not be there again in the future.
Trust the incredibly smart volunteer boards and commissions who are recommending this course of action. Come out Thursday and hear both sides and then have the opportunity our form of government allows and let your voice be heard.
Mike Urgo is the first selectman of North Stonington.