Letter to the Editor: From the Friends of HES

The views stated here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the staff of this newspaper.

Perhaps you have seen “Save HES” signs popping up around town.  More and more townspeople are becoming concerned about the closure of the school and the impacts it will have on education in our district and the town center alike. Unfortunately, on November 30, many of the signs were removed without notice, both from public and private property.  It seems as though someone is concerned about the growing discontent with the BoE’s decision to close the school. 

The signs are being posted by concerned members of the community, and were put forth by a group called “Friends of HES.”  The group is composed of business owners, parents, architects and planners, real estate developers, educational professionals, and many other concerned taxpayers.  This group has repeatedly asked the BoE for more specific information pertaining to the closure of HES.  So far, none of that information has been made available and virtually no questions have been adequately answered.  The signs raise community awareness of the BoE’s actions and intentions, they unite those of us who are concerned about the closing of HES and remind people that if we stand together we can make a change. We encourage people to attend the BoE meeting on December 4 or email the board to outline their personal concerns, as this is not yet set in stone.  An excellent article highlighting issues with which the Friends of HES take great umbrage was published in Haddam-Killingworth Now on November 17 by Katie Packtor.  The article can be found at http://www.haddam-killingworthnow.com/category/opinion/editorials/.  We are confident that as individuals gather information about this decision they will see the inconsistencies in the research that the board has put forth.  

Below is a short list of the concerns that the Friends of HES have raised to the BoE.  Many of these concerns have been ignored completely, while few have been addressed. None of these concerns have been viewed by the board as pressing enough to reconsider the closing of HES. 

  • Impact on businesses in Higganum center: the BoE has no concern for this nor have they any reason to be concerned because town leaders are not inquiring. However, we feel strongly that the onus should not be placed on other leaders in town. Rather, the BoE should have been proactive from the beginning and sought more input from our citizens and leaders alike.
  • Impact on property values in the district as class sizes will increase and the school system rating will in turn decrease on rating websites which are used by interested parties before buying real estate in our town.  They are planning to close the highest-rated elementary school in the district. – Again, they need to hear from town leaders if there is a concern about this.  They have not done any research because they have not been asked to do so.
  • Smart development plans almost always include a school as an anchor in a community. In fact, Haddam’s Plan of Conservation & Development (adopted in 2018) specifically cites HES on numerous occasions as being integral to Higganum center and playing a central role in the development of the area.  This document is meant to serve as guidance for all governing town bodies and should not be ignored by the BOE.
  • The BoE has contradicted themselves on class size projections: For example, they espouse that the student to teacher ratio will remain the same; however as part of the plan they will be reducing teaching positions and the student population will obviously not change.  The BOE has stated that they can accommodate some additional students even after the closure; however, this is only at the expense of our current student to teacher ratio and the quality of our education.

-Our concern with cost savings is twofold:
Firstly, the dollar amount savings is yet to be specified, as of now the BoE cannot point to any hard numbers. At its very core, restructuring comes at great expense, both literally and figuratively. and is shying away from providing any information about the cost of the move itself. Secondly, savings, if any, will not come in the form of taxpayer relief, but rather as a reallocation of capital assets. In other words, any cost savings as a result of restructuring will simply be moving in to the BoE capital fund and taxpayers will not see a decrease.

-The population projections that the BoE is referencing are from outdated and invalid sources. As professional demographer Ken Gronbach states, the closing of HES is “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” As such, we feel that a decision of this magnitude warrants further demographic studies. The “Wesleyan Study” that is touted by the BoE is actually a project that was done by undergraduate students as a class assignment at Wesleyan University and is by no means acceptable as a professional source. The one professional source that the BoE has cited is a study conducted by NESDEC, but one that was done in 2010. If we are using projections that look at trends in 10-year increments, then this data is already approaching its expiration date. Current census data indicates that CT will have a population boom starting in 5-7 years, so why close a school now?

– In the last month alone, Pratt & Whitney has hired 100 new people at the Middletown campus. According to a source at Pratt, they are embarking on a hiring frenzy.  This is a clear indication that people are moving to our area and will have children entering school in the very near future.

-At a minimum, we are requesting that the BoE hold off on the closure for one more year to complete more research. This is not much of a compromise on their part and it gives the board more time to provide answers to some of these questions for themselves and for concerned citizens. The future of Higganum Center’s economic vitality hinges on smart development, and smart development plans almost always include a school as their anchor.

Quotes:
Closing HES is “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Demographer Ken Gronbach
“HES is the public face of the heart & soul of Haddam.” Demographer Ken Gronbach
“Failure to plan is planning to fail.” Author unknown

In closing: Friends of HES continue to seek to onboard town leaders to further open dialogue between the BoE and the citizens of Haddam.

Joe Rizzo, Higganum  
Gina Block, Higganum
Jenn Petrillo, Haddam

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