The Stratford School District’s two-question referendum will renovate and expand the existing buildings at our current location. Some community members disapprove of this decision, believing a new school near the football field is a better option. The district appreciates the support for a new school, but thorough research discovered it was not possible.
First, the district cannot legally borrow enough money to build a new high school or middle/high school. State law and previous referendum debt restricts our borrowing to approximately $32 million. A new high school would cost nearly $34 million and a new middle/high school over $37 million. If we were to wait a few years for the previous debt to fall off — allowing us to borrow more — it still would not help. Likely increases in interest rates and construction costs would negate the debt reduction, resulting in the same situation of not being able to borrow enough money.
Second, the district could borrow the $19 million needed to build a new elementary school, but separating the schools would result in increased operational costs. These costs — maintaining two libraries, two kitchens, three HVAC systems, more staff, etc. — would be passed on to the community as higher tax levies or operational referendums. Add to that a second referendum of at least $14 million to renovate the existing buildings for middle/high school students, and again we exceed our borrowing limit.
One additional issue is that students and faculty benefit from having all the schools co-located. At our public information sessions, students commented on how the integration of the schools helps with student-to-student mentoring and teaching assistant programs. One student said, “I am very grateful for the chance to do this daily and to see the kids daily. It’s helping me to choose possible career paths.”
Third, the district is significantly invested in our current location. Both buildings are structurally sound, so there is nothing to impede renovating or adding to them. Abandoning or razing them would waste resources. Recent additions, including the library, middle school, Fanetti Wrestling Center, and Knoll Fitness Center, incurred considerable expense and were supported heavily by community donations. We should honor those investments. Meanwhile, property purchases along North Street provide ample room for expansion without adversely affecting green space and athletic fields.
While building a new school is exciting, the reality is that it is not economically or operationally possible. The board expects our community members can understand and appreciate that. Thankfully, we all want what is best for our students and community. Please vote April 5.
Stratford Board of Education Vice President