Community Members Divided Over Woodland School Proposal

By Jarod Farn-Guillette 

 

Baileyville's moment of decision is fast approaching and with two high-budget decisions facing the town, a federally mandated sewer line upgrade and a proposed new school facility to house all of Woodland Elementary, Junior and Senior High Schools within one complex, tax payers have a lot to consider. While one is not an option (being federally mandated by EPA guidelines), the school’s fate rests in the hearts and minds of voters in the community. A fateful decision with potential long-term costs, and also lasting benefits to a community already struggling. 

Superintendent Braun started the meeting with an illustrative presentation, and if pictures are worth a thousand words, the graphic images of the decrepit state of the school facilities could be worth nearly ten million. Highlighting the rotten doors, cracking walls, walls that separate from the floor, a smelly boiler and a non-safe entrance incapable of complying to post Columbine lock-down procedures, the elementary school is well past due for a change. The high school was presented with a similar list of required upgrades. The most glaring of all the deficiencies faced by the  school was the make-shift spaces fashioned out of left-over areas used for the Special Education department. With around one-third of the student population requiring special education services (SPED) and Braun mentioning the high number of students born to drug dependent parents in the region, local schools require higher SPED services, compared with the rest of the state. One teacher saying, “I service a SPED student in basically a janitor's closet next to the boiler.” 

Stephen Blatt, the principal of Stephen Blatt Architects, was on-site to provide his professional opinion on the benefits of the proposed option of consolidation, upgrades and new additions to the existing high school facility. Mentioning several key improvements in his office's vision for the future of the school, SPED featured prominently, with both middle and high school as having their own dedicated departments, among others included in the more than two million dollars extra required for the bigger package. Despite all the pizzazz of fancy new additions, at issue for many at the night's meeting, was that extra two-million; the cost difference between repairing the existing buildings versus basically a whole new school. 

Councilor Call took issue with the figures presented by Braun. Unsure of Braun's calculated two percent mill rate increase, which Braun figured to be annually a ninety-dollar tax increase for a house valued at sixty-thousand dollars. Mr. Call questioned the math of possibly a ten-million dollar loan spread over twenty years only adding up to a two-percent increase. Saying that the two-mill increase was a “fantasy” he asked for better clarification. Once numbers entered into the conversation community members began to raise their opinions, and at times temperatures raised slightly too. With one gentleman in attendance querying how much the cost per student was, incurred by Baileyville tax payers and how that compared to the rest of the state. Another gentleman arguing for more time to weigh other options. Other points of concern stressed the fact Bailleyville must foot the bill alone, and receives little support from the state, compared to other nearby towns. The majority of the concern was the issue of taxes, with many stating the significant number of single-income and fixed-income elderly residents in the community that would be more severely financially impacted than other members of the local society. Always an issue, to which Dr. McHugh offered a lengthy and impassioned yet calm argument in favor of a the “new school.” With a paper-pad in hand, he presented a reasoned logic, opening with, “I stand in support...” taking aim at those placing “personal budgets” before the education of local youth, stressing the loss the community will face by families choosing not to live in the area and teachers potentially choosing to practice their profession elsewhere, with better facilities. With the argument that better schools equal a better town and that local real estate might improve with an investment in a better school. Providing an example of development practices where elderly homeowners are protected by tax increases in special circumstances, he sought to assuage the concerns many might have regarding their personal budgets, and in these days nothing to dismiss. 

Much of the meeting was a back and forth between those concerned about the cost and those hoping for better educational opportunities in Woodland. Both sides of the argument presented their worries and hopes, with some semblance of consensus, something needs to be done about the schools. That decision will be up to the voters to decide in the upcoming referendum. One parent of three's, “Our kids should be worth this investment” is an apt statement, what that investment is, is hard to predict.