Board of education members presented their recommendation Monday night [May 24] for two new schools that would mean closing all three existing elementary schools.
School board members said they thought this option – which would cost a total of $59.8 million, of which Mansfield taxpayers would pay $27 million – was the best of several that have been discussed over the past year.
The projected state Department of Education reimbursement rate for this kind of project would be 54.9 percent.
State reimbursement for school buildings depends on the number of students enrolled, the size of the school and the types of material used during construction, in addition to other factors.
Currently, students in grades K-4 in Mansfield attend one of three elementary schools – Southeast, Dorothy C. Goodwin and Annie E. Vinton elementary schools. Beginning in 5th grade, they attend Mansfield Middle School.
School Board Chair Mark LaPlaca told the Town Council, “The age and condition of the [existing] schools makes the expense and operation of the three schools in town extremely irresponsible.”
The Town Council will discuss the school consolidation project and has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for June 14, and is expected to vote on the project June 28.
LaPlaca said that the two-school option – which was selected out of five possible options – is not the least expensive one, but it is what most board members support. Eight of nine board of education members voted in favor of the proposal May 13.
Board member Katherine Paulhus voted against the two-school option. She said she would rather keep the three schools in operation and restore them to a new condition.
This option was projected to cost $81.18 million, $45.19 million of which would be paid by taxpayers.
However, she said she knew that option was too pricey for Mansfield residents.
LaPlaca said, “The investment of upgrading three schools for 20 years would simply result in 70-year-old schools with the need to address these changes in the future.”
The least expensive option for taxpayers is building one big all-inclusive elementary school for Mansfield. This option would cost taxpayers approximately $19.06 million. However, this option has been hotly criticized by many town residents who said they want to keep smaller, community-style schools.
As for the two-school option, both schools would have between 310 and 315 pupils enrolled, which research indicates is the best size for elementary schools, said LaPlaca.
The sites of the new schools have not yet been determined.
Some Town Council members agreed with the school board, others said they were concerned with the price tag and what it would mean to taxpayers’ wallets.
“I’m very troubled with this recommendation,” said William Ryan. “As a council member I think there are many problems.”
Ryan said the school board needs to be aware parents are not “the only people in town” and education costs burden all taxpayers. “I think it’ll have a tough time to pass in November,” he said.
School board members defended their decision and said it is their responsibility to do what they think is best for the town – even if that comes with a high price tag.
“While fiscal responsibility is part of our considerations, the education responsibility is also what I’m thinking of,” said school board member Carrie Silver-Bernstein.
Posted May 25, 2010- as edited by HTNP.com Editor Brenda Sullivan